Going to Maine for bread, not beaches

This morning, I’m heading to Maine.

Nothing surprising there, you’ll say. Lots of people in Québec (and the whole Northeast) head there for vacation, a little fun at the beach, this time of year.

No beach for me, though. Just a conference – but not just any conference. A Kneading Conference. Two days of workshops and conferences about grain production, building bread ovens and artisan breadmaking of all kind, from bagels to sourdough to English muffins.

As a food geek and home baker, I couldn’t be happier. This is way better than the beach.

I’m curious to find out about the efforts by the Maine Grain Alliance to foster a renewal of cereal culture in Maine, using adapted cultivars to reinforce that aspect of the local economy. I’m curious to hear about various techniques for making dough – whether for fun or for money. And I’m curious to see who are the 250 or so people that are coming from all over to attend this breadpalooza.

I can’t wait. And I’ll be reporting more here, as the conference unfold.

By the way, if ever you head down to Maine (especially from Quebec City) on Saturday, the Artisan Bread Fair will be taking place at the Skowhegan Fairgrounds, as a logical follow-up to the Kneading Conference. That’s open to the public, and will allow people to get a taste of what all those kneady people were up to.

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Fried and Fresh? That’s chicken Karaage for you

I really love Gojee, a very visual and ingredient-based collection of recipes from multiple blogs that I discovered through a foodie friend who tweeted about it, some months ago. Since then, I’ve been receiving their weekly top three newsletter, always mouthwatering and fun to look at.

Back in December, one recipe really caught my eye: chicken Karaage, from the Sasasunakku blog. Told with a lovely back story of time spent in Sapporo (Sasa, the blog’s author, demonstrates, in her posts, how memory and emotional associations are important in the world of taste and food), the recipe seemed like a fantastic take on fried chicken. So I put it at the top of recipes I wanted to try, and finally made it yesterday.

The word karaage basically points to a cooking technique where the food is first marinated in soy sauce, garlic and ginger before being lightly coated in flour or corn starch and then deep fried. The fact that the coating is limited to corn starch (or flour) only has the advantage, from looking at how little oil was missing from the deep fryer after cooking, of adding remarkably little fat to the dish, which becomes crispy outside and moist and tasty inside. (One tiny warning: do be careful about the cooking time. The thicker pieces, in the first batch I made, were not cooked to the center, when they had taken on a nice golden color, so I put them back in and cooked next batches to a more golden-brown color.)

The chicken was fantastic in every way, and the whole family ate a little beyond their appetite – oh, just another piece, because it’s so good. Because of the substantial amounts of ginger in the marinade, the Karaage succeeds in being at once luscious and fresh, a rare and delightful combination.

Another advantage of the tasty marinade is that you don’t really need to dip the chicken into anything. We tried a little tempura sauce, which was nice but really unnecessary. Kewpie mayonnaise was a better contrast, but again, it was just so good by itself…

We served the chicken Karaage with a side of sautéed vegetables (sweet red peppers, onions, mushrooms and snow peas with a bit of ginger, pepper and garlic). I’m guessing an arugula salad with a very light vinaigrette (perhaps with a dash of soy sauce, to tie the flavors of the salad and the chicken) would also be a good and light accompaniment.

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Omelet with chanterelles and fresh-shelled peas

Sometimes, creating a recipe is just a question of what is found in your fridge – or at the market.

Such was the case for me with the appearance at my neighborhood grocery store of an abundance of chanterelle mushrooms – simultaneously with a small bag of fresh shelling peas in my weekly CSA basket offerings. Peas and chanterelles?, I wondered. Instinctively, that seemed like a good idea, so off I went preparing a quick dinner – and tweeting it as I went along, using the #cookinglive hashtag. (The hashtag is open to everyone who wants to share what’s going on in their kitchen and make the twittersphere hungry.)

I finely chopped a small summer onion as well as a few pieces of dry-cured ham, and quartered the chanterelles, after rubbing off whatever little dried-leaf and other debris was left on them. Then, I cooked the onion in a little butter for a couple of minutes over medium high heat. I turned the heat down and added the chanterelles, tossed them and let them cook for about five minutes. Meanwhile, I shelled the peas and then added them to the mushrooms with the diced ham when the chanterelles had softened up nicely, tossed everything and cooked for another minute before adding a couple of spoonfuls of white wine and letting that reduce completely.

I then set the mushroom and pea mix aside and put a little butter back in the pan and then poured in three eggs scrambled with a bit of milk. When the bottom of the omelet had become firm but the top was still quite runny, I added the mix back into the omelet and, after a few seconds more, folded it in half. An extra minute of cooking over medium-low heat allowed the omelet to set, and then I simply served it with a couple of pieces of toasted baguette (on which I spread some nice soft cheese).

As per my friend Cynthia Sin-Yi Cheng’s suggestion, I paired the omelet with a pinot noir – a 2008 Hautes-Côtes de Beaune from Billard Père et fils, to be precise – and indeed, the acidity lifted the eggs well, while the earthier tones complemented the mushrooms well.

The peas, sweet and fresh, were indeed a nice counterpoint to the chanterelles. Happy things happen when ingredients meet by chance.

Posted in Food | 53 Comments

Sautéed fiddleheads with chicken and mushrooms in a madeira cream sauce

Among the seasonal treats that spring brings along, fiddleheads are one of my favorites, though I’ve never done much else than eat them as a side with, say, a pork chop or a piece of salmon, boiled and then finished with a little butter.

But this year, as I picked up a package at my local grocery store, I figured I could integrate them into something more elaborate, building on the earthy notes of this tasty, colorful green.

So after preparing the fiddleheads according to instructions, I boiled them for 10 minutes and meanwhile, cut a boneless chicken breast into two-inch long pieces, coarsely chopped half a white onion and sliced shiitake and plain old Paris mushrooms.

In a pan, with a good spoonful of butter, I started by browning the chicken on both sides, then added the onions, tossed, let them cook together for a minute, added the mushrooms and tossed some more, adding some freshly ground black pepper and some thyme.

When the fiddleheads were cooked (tender, but still a fairly bright green), I drained them, rinsed them and set them aside until the other ingredients were properly sautéed. I then added them to the pan, put a few dots of butter on top and let it melt into the mix as I tossed the contents of the pan regularly. After about two minutes, I added a splash of madeira (a little white wine could do the trick, but the aromas of the madeira add something extra to the mix of earthy aromas and flavors of the mushrooms and fiddleheads), and a couple of spoonfuls of cream, mixed well and let the whole thing integrate and warm together for another minute or two.

Then I just put that in a bowl and ate it, lapping up the sauce with some bread. You could also serve it over rice or with egg noodles. A glass of chardonnay – barrel-fermented, but with good acidity and little oaky tones – was a great match.

As for proportions, I had almost a pound of fiddleheads, eight ounces of mushrooms and only one chicken breast, which made the fiddleheads the core of the dish. You could, of course, add more meat, depending on what you’re trying to achieve, but I liked the fact that the chicken, here, gave flavor to the fiddlehead dish, rather than the other way around. And in terms of veggie-to-meat proportions, I’m sure Michael Pollan would have approved.

One note. If you’re in the Northeastern corner of North America, there’s only a couple of weeks of fiddlehead season left, even with our slow, cool spring. In Southern Ontario, according to Twitter echoes from the markets, it’s just about the last week. So gather the fiddleheads while ye may, and sautée them right after that – or blanch them and freeze them for later use.

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Pasta with bacon, cream, cheese and… broccoli (that’s right, broccoli!)

This was a meal born out of necessity. We wound up with two green veggies that needed to be eaten quickly, before they went to waste, and one of them was broccoli.

Now, broccoli doesn’t set fear in the heart of our children. They actually like it pretty much, and it regularly comes back in the rotation , simply steamed until it’s softened just enough and still bright green,as a side for the meat or fish and two veg kind of meals.

But that night, we felt more like having the other veg (green beans, I think), and quickly figured that broccoli could fit in nicely with the pasta we had scheduled for the next evening. We steamed the broccoli, just a little less than for eating it right away, and put it in the fridge for the next day.

Of course, you could cook the broccoli while the water is boiling to make the pasta, the same night. The important thing is to keep it al dente, so it doesn’t fall apart as you integrate it with the sauce and toss it with the pasta.

To prepare the sauce, we started by cooking some bacon until crisp, draining it, and then chopping it into small pieces. We then took most of the fat out of the frying pan, and fried a finely chopped small onion in the remaining fat, over medium heat, until the onion melted nicely. Then we added the chopped bacon back in, some freshly ground pepper and then a good cup of cream.

When the cream heated up, we integrated some grated cheese (half sharp cheddar, half gruyère – either could have done the job on its own) and let it melt into the cream. We then put it the broccoli, chopped into small florets (and the stems, chopped into half-inch pieces) and stirred it in gently, then let it warm with the rest of the sauce over low heat, as the pasta finished cooking.

We picked short pasta, more specifically farfalle, to go with this particular sauce, because we thought the size of the pasta would fit well with the pieces of broccoli. Penne or rotini could do well too.

We tossed the sauce gently with the cooked pasta (if the sauce seems a little short, add some extra cream) and served hot. It disappeared off the plates at record speed.

For one bunch of broccoli, we used about a pound and a half of pasta, one small onion, a big cup of cream, 200 grams of cheese and seven or eight slices of bacon. Roughly. Proportions can be adjusted to taste and preferences, of course.

Posted in Food, main course, pasta, recipe, vegetables | Tagged , , , , , , , | 54 Comments

Cooking Live recipe: Black and white beans in coconut sauce

I’ve been doing #cookinglive on Twitter on and off for a good couple of years, now, and beyond the fact that it seems to make a lot of people hungry around dinner time, it’s become a good way for me to consign improvised or semi-improvised recipes I make. And when I get my act together, I even put these recipes up on this blog.

The bean dish I made last Tuesday caught a fair bit of attention and interest, with people asking for the recipe – a good incentive to find a minute and put it up. It’s inspired from a Tanzanian dish found in The World in Your Kitchen, a terrific vegetarian cookbook my wife and I got from her parents a few years ago. The original recipe wound up being a little dry, when I tried it, however, so I added a little liquid (maybe even a little too much, this time).

The recipe, which managed to feed a family of five for a couple of meals (served with rice or over Udon noodles), starts out pretty simply:

Warm olive oil over medium heat. Dice a medium onion, sautée in oil two minutes.

I have a mortar and pestle, so I tend to buy certain spices in whole seeds (in this case coriander and cumin) and crush them just before using them. Otherwise, you can use powdered:

Add crushed cumin and coriander seeds, garlic, turmeric and chili powder, stir and let cook for one minute.

For this recipe, I used a generous teaspoon of each of the dry spices, and a couple of cloves garlic. Warming the spices in oil helps release the flavors – but don’t cook them too long or too hard, or the flavors can get harsh.

I then used four or five medium-sized potatoes, cutting them in small pieces:

Add three cups of broth (chicken or veggie), bring back to boil, throw in diced potatoes. Cook the potatoes 5 minutes in the spicy broth.

Tomatoes and potatoes, cooking in a well-spiced, colorful broth

The idea, here, is to have enough liquid to boil the potatoes properly in the spicy, tasty broth. Balancing the liquid proved a bit tricky, though, probably because of the next step:

Add a can of diced tomatoes, bring back to a boil and cook another five minutes.

The recipe wound up being a little too liquid, however, which brings me to suggest draining the tomatoes and setting the liquid from the can aside, and adding some in if necessary, later in the process.

Then come the main stuff, again calibrated for a rather large recipe:

Added 1 cup dessicated coconut, 2 cans black beans, 2 cans white beans and a can coconut milk. Cooking 30 mins.

Stir all the ingredients in as you add them, bring the stew to a boil, and then turn down the heat to simmer, stirring regularly. You don’t want this to stick. I used some light coconut milk, by the way, which may also have contributed to the conclusion:

Coconut bean stew not as thick as I hoped. Should’ve put only 2 cups broth, drained tomatoes. No matter: will serve over rice.

Indeed, if the stew is not exactly thick enough to eat just like that, serving it over rice or rice noodles, for instance, will work very well. The kids loved it, in any case.

And you know what? If you add more liquid, this might make a very nice, heartwarming soup, too.

Posted in Food, main course, recipe, vegetarian | Tagged , | 41 Comments

Egg nog latte, just in time for Christmas

So, a funny thing happened on the way to bread pudding…

I was making a basic recipe found on Recettes du Québec, and wound up with some extra egg preparation, since my baking dish was a little smaller than the one in the recipe.

And as I was heading to make a caffe latte, I had an idea: how about using the egg preparation to make a special kind of latte.

I doubled the amount of milk, mixed it well with the egg preparation, and after making an espresso with my trusty old Saeco Aroma, I warmed and frothed up the egg preparation like you normally would with the milk. The result was unctuous and delicious, almost like a light custard.

For good measure, and in the spirit of the Christmas egg nog, I added an ounce of Gélinotte, a rich and spicy maple liqueur I particularly like, made by Québec producer Intermiel. Kathryn, from Café du Lac, suggested using some Sortilège, a maple and Canadian whisky combo she keeps on hand. Some brandy and a little maple syrup could also do the trick, I’m sure.

Suggested proportions for the “egg nog” preparation are 1 1/2 cups of milk, one egg, a couple of teaspoons of sugar (or brown sugar or maple syrup), a good pinch of nutmeg (freshly grated, ideally) and a good pinch of cinnamon. If you don’t have an espresso machine, warm the egg preparation slowly on the stovetop, using an immersion blender or a whip to stir the mixture as it warms up. Short bursts in the microwave could also work.

Just be sure not to overheat the mixture. You don’t want to be making a Christmas omelette.

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Oysters with verjus mignonette

I’ve been getting into oyster season big time, this year. Maybe it’s all because of the folks at Ravine Estate Winery, in Niagara, whose restaurant features an oyster bar, in the summer time. I had oysters there, when I was in the region in August, with a number of great little garnishes, including freshly grated horseradish, a spicy kimchi and a mignonette sauce. It was an inspiring way to get back into the whole bivalve thing, and I’m happy to keep going.

Malpèque oysters served with a tiny spoonful of verjus mignonette

Mignonette, which I particularly liked in August, is remarkably simple to make: very finely chop a grey shallot, grind some black pepper, and pour a few spoonfuls of vinegar over the shallots and pepper. Mix well, and let it marinate for a couple of hours, at least, and ideally for a day or two, as the flavor will improve with time.

This week, I made a mignonette variation Read More »

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Beans, wonderful beans, Mexican, African or Tuscan…

A variation on fagioli all'Uccelletto, one of the many different things you can do with beans

When food and environment writers suggest that you should cut down on meat and eat more vegetarian foods, one of the things they suggest most often is to eat more beans.

Lovely idea. I wish they would also spend more time suggesting recipes – and more precisely, a variety of recipes that can keep you eating them week after week, without feeling like you’re eating the same old thing. For the longest time, I had the impression that my options were chili, bean burritos, minestrone and… chili.

OK, I’m exagerating a little, but Read More »

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How to make spaghetti squash exciting

Don’t laugh. It really is possible. And I’ve got the recipe to prove it.

A spaghetti squash, waiting for an interesting recipe to pop up.

You see, I love squash. Butternut, Buttercup, Gold Nugget, Acorn, Giraumon, you name it, simply cut into pieces and roasted around a chicken or a pork roast. I even like pumpkin, for soups and cakes and such. But just like Time After Time was Pavement’s least favorite song, spaghetti squash is my least favorite squash. Every time we get one in our CSA basket, it just sort of sits there and stares at us, waiting for us to do something with it.

One thing’s for sure, Read More »

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