Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Jamie Oliver's Amazing Potato and Horseradish Salad

So far, Cook with Jamie is a cookbook that has not only never dissapointed me, but constantly impresses me. At first this recipe might just seem like a fancy potato salad. But once you start to eat it...oh...it's beautiful! And this is even considering that I didn't have half the exact ingredients as the recipe called for.

The recipe called for boiling some new potatoes. I don't know what I had exactly, the bag just said mini potatoes...whatever that's supposed to mean. For the sauce, you need the juice of 2 lemons (I used the bottled stuff...major faux pas), the yellow heart of a celery, some chopped fresh parsley (I only had cilantro and a bit of thyme), a few heaping tablespoons of horseradish (I used what was left of the organic root I was given), and 3 heaping tablespoons of crème fraiche or sour cream (I only had the inferior sour cream). Season to taste with sea salt and fresh cracked black pepper. You then had to organize the coated potatoes on some bresaola which is basically cured beef. I had cold deli roast beef which wasn't quality nor cured but was the only thing available in my backwoods area. However, it did the trick. I also didn't bother sprinkling some tarragon leaves over the whole thing but I did pour some cold pressed olive oil over the whole thing which is something Mr. Oliver seems to be unable to go without...he pours olive oil on everything...see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bu90jsp6nkE.

This is undoubtedly the best potato salad ever. If you serve this at a dinner party or bring it along with you at a potluck, you will gain immortal fame amongst your friends and family. When you're dead and gone, they'll say "Do you remember that time Jenny brought that gorgeous potato salad? Wasn't that a wonderful salad!" It's true. That's what they'll be saying.

Garlic Shrimp Ravioli

You might have noticed that we eat alot of ravioli. Every week actually. Hell, they're fresh, handmade and will turn you off all other pasta for all time. So what's not to like, especially when you add delicious stuff to them like garlic butter shrimp.

For this particular recipe I can take no credit. This was all my girlfriends doing. So here is what she did. First she melted a good bit of butter in a pan with alot of crushed garlic...we seem to love the stuff...maybe even unhealthily. Once the butter was all nice and garlicky, she plopped in some shrimp, added thyme and oregano. She cooked the ravioli in the meantime, saving a tablespoon or so of the pasta water to add to the butter and then served it all topped with a good heaping mound of grated parmesan cheese.

Beat that Red Lobster!

New Energy Star Windows!

Ok. I know that new windows have little to do with food but for me, food, self-sustainability and environmental responsibility are all interelated. Plus the new windows let alot more light into my kitchen which makes for a more enjoyable atmosphere.

Considering that the windows in my apartment last winter were as good as useless, I was really excited when my landlord told us that he would be changing the windows. Plus he didn't cheap out. He went for the Energy Star rated windows. If you're unaware of what the Energy Star rating system is, you can visit http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca/energystar/english/consumers/index.cfm. Basically, it means that the appliances or windows or other items bearing this mark are efficient at performing the duty they were meant to perform. Appliances don't consume excessive amounts of energy to get the job done. Windows retain heat and keep out the cold. All in all, one should never buy anything that's inneficient and which contributes to the destruction of our global environment.

Organic garlic and gardening escapades

I think it would be fair to say that for most of us, garlic is just garlic. Unfortunately, our culinary knowledge is mostly formed by what's available in supermarkets so here in North America we are ignorant at the best of times. So you can imagine my surprise when I volunteered at Amarosia Organic garden and was put to the tast of sorting through a dozen varieties of garlic.

That wet and cold day was the first time I've ever been able to chat with my friendly neighbourhood organic gardeners. They're winding down their season now so can finally take a breath only to find themselves blathering on with me about topics as varied as farm economics to long-distance familial relationships. Besides the cold, it was a great day. And Rowena was kind enough to send me home with a knob of horseradish, a few garlic cloves and some Russian cooking tomatoes who's exact name I forget.

Now the catch was that I had to sample the garlic raw in order to really appreciate the different characteristics of each garlic variety. So to the utter displeasure of my girlfriend, I munched on some raw garlic whilst preparing a super garlicky tomato sauce. Here are my impressions of the different varieties I sampled raw: 1) the hot and spicy variety was rather mild with only a slight spice; 2) on the other hand, the roja variety had a good spicy kick and it's taste was reminiscent of green onions; 3) finally, the music variety of large garlic cloves was also spicy with an almost fruity aftertaste which was quite pleasant. As for the other varieties, they went unlabelled so I couldn't really tell you what their individual characteristics are. Best talk to Rowena.

Seeing as I was graced with so much garlic, horseradish and cooking tomatoes, my obvious reaction was to make a tomato sauce for our farmer's market bought ravioli. I first sweated an onion along with some celery, then added the dozen chopped cooking tomatoes, some fresh horseradish, oregano, thyme, a bit of anchovy paste, a splash of white wine, salt and pepper. Now seeing as Rowena had advised me that the garlic varieties lose their individuality once cooked, I chose to "infuse" the garlic into the sauce rather than cook it. What I mean by that is that I cooked the sauce till the tomatoes had broken up and everything was reduced, took the pot off the fire, and stirred the half dozen sliced garlic cloves into the sauce. So they didn't really cook. The sauce was more like the hot water and the garlic was the tea...if that makes any sense.

Along with handmade fresh ravioli, a good handful of grated grated parmesan, capers, and a glug of quality cold pressed olive oil, this was a smashing albight stinky success. I love garlic.

Thanks Rowena.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Kwong's My China: Round 2

Two more of Kylie Kwong's My China recipes were on the menu for this week and they were as delicious as the others. Now before I go on to describe the food, I must first say this: it's rare that you'll get all of the recipes you make from a cookbook to taste good. Now it's either the cooks fault or the authors fault. I lean more towards the latter since a recipe is supposed to guide the cook and too many cookbooks are just thrown together, full of random recipes that are bland and, when you start to think about it, had not been a good idea from the start. So Kwong's book is one of these exceptions, one of those really good cookbooks. Though I still maintain that the prose sections of her book need improving.

The first recipe we made was "Stir-fried Pork with Gai Choy". Now if you're wondering "What the hell is gai choy?" you're not alone. Turns out it's mustard greens, which doesn't exactly help. If you google it, gai choy only look like curly ended bok choy. Knowing that I wouldn't find gai choy in Moncton, I simply opted to replace it with bok choy. There.

So the recipe, like all of the other recipes in this book, is pretty simple. The only non-sauce ingredients are the gai choy or bok choy substitute, pork neck fillet (or whatever cut of pork), ginger and garlic. Basically, you stir fry these in peanut oil, starting with the pork, garlic and ginger, and then add the bok choy. After a good, quick, hot stir-fry, you add shao hsing wine, brown sugar, oyster sauce, sesame oil, brown rice vinegar and white pepper. Cook till it looks like something you'd eat in a Chinese restaurant and there you have it.

Alongside the pork dish I made "Braised Water Chestnuts with Carrots, Lup Yook and Ginger". Yet another weird ingredient, lup yook is dry-cured pork belly which basically means that bacon can be substituted though it won't be entirely authentic. As far as the cooking goes, it's even easier than the pork. Stir fry ginger, garlic and bacon till, I guess, desired bacon doneness. Then add sliced carrot and chestnuts and stry-fry till the chestnuts have warmed through. Remember that your wok should be hot. A bit of brown sugar, a bit of shao hsing wine, soy sauce, vinegar and there you have it. The bacon really works well with the chestnuts and the carrots and the sauce gives it that Asian twang.

All in all, I find Kwong's recipes simple, quick to make, healthy and well worth it.

St-Ambroise Apricot Wheat Ale

St-Ambroise are arguably one of the best breweries in the nation. Their oatmeal stout is out of this world...liable to knock Guinness out of their fortified monopoly and establish a Canadian brewery as the world's best brewer of beers. But that's a stretch.

What I do know for sure is that the Apricot Wheat ale is steller. I wouldn't say that it's sweet like some other fruit bears can sometimes be. And the wheat part of the beer isn't too heavy and rich. The beer, I would say, is almost a bit dry, definitely refreshing, and only has a slight aftertaste of apricots; though I did find out the other night that the more you drink, the more you can taste the apricots...bonus!

If you find this beer on your liquor store shelves, buy it. Really good beer.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Naxi-Style Chicken from Kylie Kwong's My China

I got Kylie Kwong's My China from my mother-in-law last Christmas. This is the first time I've made recipes from this book. I'd read it all before and to tell you the truth, the writing which recounts Kwong's culinary adventure through China is kind of bland. The writing feels only like a play by play account of her trip with no real depth of flavour. The same, thankfully, cannot be said of her recipes.

I made two recipes from My China. The first was simply called "Stir-Fried Bean Sprouts, Snow Peas and Garlic Chives". Basically, you chop a bulb of garlic in half, let it sear in a wok in some peanut oil then add snow peas sea salt and shao hsing wine. I had to make a special trip to my local Asian food store to find the cooking wine but it was well worth it. Along with bean sprouts and a dollop of rich sesame oil (I couldn't find any garlic chives) the plate was simple, quick to make and as authentically Chinese as I know authentic Chinese to be. Not this chicken fried rice with deep-fried chicken balls drenched in goopy red sauce like we have in our Chinese-Canadian restaurants.

The second recipe from My China was a bit more complex but not by much. Alot of the recipes repeat themselves in Kwong's recipes which is, to the best of my knowledge, the way Chinese cooks tend to prepare their various recipes. "Naxi-Style Chicken with Chillies, Green Pepper and Peanuts" calls for cubed tender chicken thighs - arguably the best part of the chicken after the tenderloin and the "oysters" - marinated in corn starch for an hour. You then infuse equal parts of shao hsing wine and peanut oil with chillies. I only had Mexican style chillies but the recipe doesn't specify which kind of dried chillies are required or best for the dish. It just says dried red chillies.

Once you've removed the chillies from the oil, you then proceed to cook half of the chicken, remove it, add more oil and cook the rest of the chicken. You then dump the first half of chicken in along with reserved chillies, some ginger, a chopped green pepper and a chopped cucumber. Stir-fry then add brown sugar to caramelize things a bit. After that, you add half a cup of roasted unsalted peanuts, light soy sauce and brown rice vinegar (I only had regular rice vinegar). Stir-fry for 30 seconds in your very hot work and voilà! You've got "authentic" Chinese food.

The best part about these recipes is that their easy, quick and really taste like Chinese food ought to taste like. It's fresh, loaded with vegetables and quite easy to make. Kudos to Kwong even though she has to work a bit on her literary skills.

Ferme du Diamant Strikes Again

I love my farmer's markets. I love the food, the people and I love the fact that I'm now a regular. I walk up to some stalls and the merchants know right away what I'm going buy. At the Moncton market I buy bubbly apple cider every week. He sees me coming and has it already pulled out for me. You wont see that at the supermarket.

One such merchant who I love is the French gentleman of Ferme du Diamant. His ham is the best. His sausages are the best. And considering that he's the only one at the markets who makes terrines and patés, his terrines and patés are the best. But really, they are. I mean I'd even go so far as to say that his creton is almost better than my grandmother's. And that's saying something.

This week, I bought chicken liver paté with prunes and madeira wine. Just the name sounds amazing...and don't knock it just because it contains offal. The paté had the delicious smooth taste particular to chicken livers which was balanced with the sweetness of the wine and the prunes. On toast, this is absolutely the best way to start the morning. That and a good big cup of coffee.

What you see alongside the paté on toast is the Norwegian whey cheese on toast I'd mentionned last week. Nice, sweet, and soft. Yum.