Cha zuke

Thursday, November 30, 2006
Here is episode two in this week's rice theme. Rice with tea is as natural as cereal and milk, and good for mornings when you want something less filling. All you really need is rice and green tea, but use a garnish if possible. I had some sheets of nori and tiny dried shrimp, but you could use things like furikake or gomashio or just sesame seeds.

Mound leftover rice in a bowl and sprinkle with dried shrimp and nori, if desired. (You can use cold rice but I like to warm it up a little first.) Pour hot green tea into bowl and serve.

Onion Fried Rice with Peas

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

At the eleventh hour I found out about Onion Day via Cream Puff and knew I had to participate. Nothing turns up under my knife more often than onions - usually the strongly flavoured yellow kind, but very frequently green onions or red. Here, they are the main flavour note in fried rice.

Cooking a pot of rice on the weekend makes the rest of the week's meals ten times easier - you can use rice in various really good and satisfying things that don't take much time, like mujadara or risi bisi. Fried rice is one of those quick and infinitely variable dishes. Many people think of fried rice as an Eastern dish and season accordingly, but I prefer it with things like grated cheese stirred in to get all melted and toasty and fresh herbs like sage or thyme. This is a more basic version, however.

Quarter one small onion, or half a medium, and cut in julienne. Brown onions over medium heat with a touch of salt to draw out the juices, using butter or oil. When onions are nearly caramelized add 3/4 cup of cold cooked rice, and fry, stirring occasionally, until rice is very fragrant and is forming lots of crusty pieces. Watch that the onion does not burn. Meanwhile, microwave about 1/3 cup frozen peas until they are tender. When rice is done add peas and a few grinds of pepper. Continue to saute for a minute or two, taste for seasoning, and serve.

Tag: Onion Day

Shaved Beet Salad with Pickle Juice Vinaigrette

Thursday, November 23, 2006
The Italian Centre had bags of small beets, about 2 kg, for two dollars last week so I grabbed one bag and roasted them as soon as I got home. As I removed the skins, I wondered what I should do with them and popped one into my mouth. It had intense, earthy-sweet flavour. Inspired by a salad on Epicurious, I stacked caramelized onions and shaved beets on goat cheese with a vinaigrette. The salad photographed beautifully, but the beets overshadowed the other ingredients so much I decided to simplify things a bit and just toss the shaved beets in the vinaigrette.

I used the juice from the pickled onion recipe as a base for the vinaigrette. Any juice from sweet-tart pickles should work - just taste as you go. If you don't have pickle juice, use a mild or flavoured vinegar that is a bit sweet - a raspberry vinegar would be fantastic.

Shave 6-8 small roasted peeled beets with a mandolin, or slice very thinly with a knife. For vinaigrette, mix 3 tbs pickle juice with 1 tsp Dijon mustard and add salt and sugar, if desired, to taste. When you have the flavour balance you want, whisk in 2 tbs oil. Toss beets carefully with vinaigrette - they will soak it up immediately, because they are so thin - and serve.

Eggs Cooked on Top of Things

Monday, November 20, 2006
This is for those days when you can take time for breakfast. It started out as a way to make leftovers more like morning food - heat them first in a cast iron pan, and cook eggs on top with a sprinkle of cheese so the yolk makes a rich sauce for whatever is underneath.

(The name's vagueness is partly due to my early morning lack of imagination and partly because the dish is so variable - this time, the things are squash and kale. Last time, they were tomatoes and green onions. The time before that, potatoes and methi.)

For wetter things, like spinach with garlic or like my tomato and green onion combo, you can put the lid on top of the pan and baste the eggs. For a base with less moisture, like this squash and kale combination or potatoes, it is easier to finish the eggs under the broiler or the things can burn before the eggs are cooked.

For squash and kale things, shown: Mince 1 clove garlic and half a small onion and saute over medium high heat in a tablespoon or so of oil until softened. Add 3/4 cup cooked diced squash and a couple handfuls of chopped kale. Add salt and pepper and saute until all is heated through and the squash is browned in places. Flatten everything down in the pan, lower heat slightly, and break two eggs overtop. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of parmesan cheese, if desired, and cook until eggs are starting to firm on the bottom. Move pan underneath a low broiler and cook carefully until eggs are done to your taste. Finish with a grind of pepper.

Squash Seed Candy

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Never, ever, will I ever throw out squash seeds again. These are from a butternut, and I decided to save and toast them while I was waiting for the main course to steam. I was alarmed, and then delighted, when they started to crack like popcorn in my toaster oven. They were good by themselves but I wanted to do something sweet with them, and stirred the toasted seeds into some caramelized sugar. There is an acorn squash sitting on my counter with more of these treasures inside, and next time I will probably do something different - there are gorgeous recipes for pumpkin seed brittle out there that looks like stained glass. Or I might prepare them like the candied nuts. This is my first attempt:

Spread seeds from one butternut in a single layer on a pan and toast in a medium oven until some of them begin to crack. Let seeds cool and, over medium high heat in a small pan, carmelize 1/4 cup demerara sugar until it is liquid and bubbly. Spread out a sheet of foil. Stir squash seeds into sugar and pour quickly onto foil. Cover with another layer of foil and carefully squish thin with a rolling pin as the foil is quite hot and the candy will harden very fast. Let cool, remove foil, and break into pieces. If you don't eat them right away you should keep them in an air tight container; they will soften and get tacky if you leave them out.

Fen Zheng Rou

Monday, November 13, 2006

This wonderfully comforting dish of meat steamed with broken toasted rice I first spied in my current favourite Chinese cookbook, Land of Plenty. The book's version was called Fen Zheng Niu Rou ('niu' meaning beef) - so intriguingly unlike any Chinese dish I knew that I had to make it. Besides the rice, the recipe called for beef marinated in fiery bean sauce and lots of Sichuan pepper to finish. The melting texture contrasted gorgeously with the intensity of the seasonings. Not one week later, a Chinese friend served me a luxurious but milder version, made with pork belly and mushrooms, which I liked even better.

This recipe needs some advance work; the meat has to marinate, and the dish also needs at least a couple of hours to cook with steam (which the bone dry winter air at my place just slurps up). The long, slow, moist cooking suits less expensive cuts of meat - you can use lamb as well as beef or pork, or ribs if you find the richness of pork belly overwhelming. You can also use less meat and try adding some soaked dried mung beans. About half an hour before the meat is done, you can slip some squash, carrots, or other vegetable on top of the bowl in the steamer to cook at the same time.

In advance: Cut 1/2 to 1 lb of pork belly, with skin if possible, into thick one-inch strips and place in a plastic bag or other marinating container. Splash with 3 tablespoons of soy sauce and a couple tablespoons of Chinese cooking wine or sherry, and leave to marinate for a few hours. Toast 2/3 cup of rice over medium heat with two star anise in a dry pan as rice turns opaque, then brown. When rice is toasty but not burned let cool, reserving star anise. Grind rice in a blender to the texture of couscous. Soak 3-4 dried shiitake mushrooms, and soak a couple of handfuls rinsed dried mung beans if you are using them.

When you are ready for steaming, remove meat from marinade and toss with toasted rice, reserved star anise, drained mushrooms, and drained mung beans if you have them. Place in a glass or stainless steel bowl inside a large pot fitted with a steamer and steam for 2 to 2.5 hours until meat is very tender, adding water to the pot if necessary. Taste for seasoning balance and sprinkle with green onions and sesame oil before serving.

Book Review: The Scavenger's Guide to Haute Cuisine, by Steve Rinella

Thursday, November 09, 2006

This is the story of Rinella's year-long quest to gather ingredients for a three day feast for several of his friends and family using recipes from Escoffier's Guide Culinaire. The highly engaging narrative is full of knowledge about hunting and dressing fish and animals that would have been common knowledge a generation or two ago but is now fast disappearing, and tracking down the variety of beasts on the menu requires the author to learn quite a few new tricks. We are also given glimpses of Escoffier's brilliance, which seems to have transformed Rinella's frame of reference on cooking and food. The project is a tribute to Escoffier and also to Rinella Sr, who had acquired a taste for haute cuisine in France during the war and who sustained it mostly by his own hunting and fishing after returning to the US. The meal is also a final attempt to convince a hunter's vegetarian girlfriend to become a meat eater.

The term 'scavenger' in the title I found misleading, since a scavenger lives off what others have left behind and Rinella is all over the continent pursuing and gathering the game. There was thus less to learn from a frugal perspective than I expected, particularly since my own diet has been going more and more veggie. The book did help me recognize that there are all kinds of ways to obtain and prepare food, and resourcefulness in acquiring foodstuffs combined with deep understanding of ingredients and preparation can result in some of the most creative and satisfying cooking and eating.

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #10: Lefse

Friday, November 03, 2006

My usual tactic is to get rid of things I don't use, so I hadn't planned on participating in the Neglected Gadgets episode. Then, with some leftover mashed potatoes in the fridge, I spotted my mom's lefse rolling pin - something I don't generally think of as a kitchen implement, but more as a supporting structure in my family's culinary architecture. And I had not made lefse for ages. (You can buy lefse locally at specialty grocery stores or at the farmer's market, outrageously priced even for frozen lefse. And they are rather thin and pale - I like it a bit thicker, with a good browned flour char.)

This is one of those dishes I always make without a recipe, but I looked through my cookbooks none the less. Could have sworn there was a lefse recipe in our family reunion cookbook, but couldn't find it - then figured that most of us would think it was too simple for a recipe anyway. I did find two recipes in a collection from Whispering Pines Place, a lodge in Canwood, SK where my great grandmother used to live. One of the recipes called for eggs and baking powder, which I though quite odd - more of a potato pancake recipe, though it would be nice and tender and need less flour. The other recipe is written as a poem that starts with Yew tak yust ten big potatoes...probably politically incorrect to copy the whole thing. I ended up calling my mom about it. Leftover mashed potatoes (we always made them with milk), flour, salt, nothing more - you don't want potatoes made with too much milk, because then you have to add more and more flour.

I kneaded about 1 cup of flour (by 1/3 cups) into about two and a half cups mashed potatoes warmed to room temperature, til the dough was smooth and held together. After letting the dough sit for about ten minutes, I used the lefse rolling pin to shape lefse that would fit my 8 inch cast iron pan, using lots of flour and turning them so that the dough would not stick - a lefse rolling pin is a royal pain to clean if dough is sticking in the grooves. I then browned them on both sides in a dry frying pan over medium high heat. The generous amount of flour prevents the lefse from sticking to the pan as long as you don't burn them. The garlic and goat cheese from the original mashed potato recipe came through but not as strongly as I'd hoped, so I would try using less flour next time. I at first thought the mashed potatoes had plenty of salt, but ended up adding some to the dough after tasting the first cooked lefse. I ate these very untraditionally, with chunky harissa and sour cream and roasted eggplant. We always ate them at home just with butter, and sometimes sugar and cinnamon.

Anyway, I am happy that this edition of Weekend Cookbook Challenge led to my rediscovery of the lefse rolling pin. I am going to use it to give some surface texture to my latest favourite blog recipe, Nic's wheat crackers.

This episode of Weekend Cookbook Challenge is brought to you by Mary of The Sour Dough and Sara of i like to cook.

Mashed Potatoes with Herbs and Cheese

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Today is a grayish, -5 C day with a wind that makes it feel ten degrees colder. But I am at home with laundry in the dryer, a big batch of chicken stock in the oven, and a plate of mashed potatoes.

These rich and flavour packed potatoes are an extravagant side dish, but a frugal main course. (Once I did make a simpler, herb free version with lebnah instead of cheese to go with Sam's Boozy Bangers and Mash. Highly recommended.) My favourite way to cook potatoes right now is the microwave, with the dried herbs and salt. Fresh herbs, if you are using them, shouldn't be added until after cooking the potatoes. Whole potatoes are used here because, besides being less trouble than peeling them, the skins are full of nutrients and the things are delicious. I like the potatoes dry with some texture but if you want them creamier you can stir in some hot milk or hot water.

Dice 3 medium potatoes and 2 cloves of garlic - more if you really love garlic. Sprinkle with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp thyme (or other dried herb that will complement the cheese you are using) and microwave covered for about six minutes, depending on your microwave. Mash hot potatoes immediately to the desired smoothness and add cheese - up to 2/3 cup if you are using a milder cheese. I used 1/2 cup of goat cheese. When everything is mixed together, taste for salt and seasoning and serve with butter.

Recipes for carb rich, intense main courses often come with airy instructions to serve with a green salad. Salad is not quite the thing here, unless you eat it separately as a starter. You could saute some greens, or make something like the onion and pepper stir fry, or roast some asparagus.

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #10 Teaser

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The theme of this month's challenge is Neglected Kitchen Gadgets. (Cue mysterious music...) Originally from northern Europe, I am the star of Pepper's forthcoming post...who am I?

(Any guesses can be left in comments.)