Monday, May 17, 2010

When the cat is away...

Mike made plans with his dad tonight, so cooking-wise, I'm left to my own devices. Meaning, I don't have to take anyone's food preferences or issues into account. Mike is not especially picky. That thing about risotto is weird, but it stems from a childhood trauma. He is, however, iffy about fish, so fish it will be, tonight.

I have procured a whole, dressed rainbow trout. It has its head, but no guts. I'm going to make trout en papillote, with asparagus, fiddleheads and new potatoes, and also a lemon meringue pie. The pie is for when Mike and his dad come over for dessert after their dinner. This is an easy, no-mess (except for the decapitation of the fish) and nearly foolproof way of preparing fish. For those of you that care about such things (and I'm not one of them), it is also nearly free of added fat.

One whole trout is enough for 2 people (you'll have to split it in 2), or you could figure 1 filet per person. Get your oven set to 400F. You'll need one 16" square piece of parchment paper per trout filet. Fold the parchment square in half, then open it back up. Along half of each square, arrange 4 or 5 very thin slices of lemon, then put your fish on top, skin side down, then drizzle with 1 tsp evoo (all things considered, as far as I'm concerned, that's almost no fat), season with salt and pepper, and a sprig or two of thyme (or half a stem of rosemary, if you like).

Fold the parchment over top, fold the edges over each other, and then fold them again to really seal the package. If you seal it well enough, the parchment will puff up all sexy-like when the fish is done. But you should put the packages on a baking sheet with a raised edge, so that if you didn't seal the fish package well, you won't have a trout-y oven mess. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the fish is just opaque and flaky- trout, like salmon, is good to eat just shy of cooked all the way through. Like a medium-medium rare.

And the juices in the packet? Liquid gold. Pour them over the fish, to serve.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Sodium Intake and Hypertension

Today is a day off.

Hungry for lunch, I came to the unpleasant realization that I have more kinds of salt in my kitchen than actual foodstuffs. These are the kinds:

Regular iodized table salt (mostly Mike uses it to over-season his food).
Kosher salt (for cooking).
Sea salt (for salting water for boiling pasta or blanching vegetables).
Fleur de sel (for garnishing, and for salting sweets, like Dulce de Leche).
Sour salt (for making Bubby Mona's Halishkes, a sweet and sour cabbage and meatball dish).
Smoked salt (mostly for Latin American food, but also some roasts).
Pink Himalayan salt (er... pink is my favorite colour?).
Coarse pickling salt (I make pickles in the summer).
Coarse gray Brittany sea salt (a really complex, minerally flavour. Also, I used to wash my hair with it).

Pathological, right?
At least I'm not hoarding shoes.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Monday is the new Wednesday

Monday is the new Wednesday, pink is the new black, 50 is the new 30, and 30 is the new 20.

But all that is changing.

Mostly the part about my days off, and the nights on which I will be able to cook at home, instead of for the slavering hordes.

Tonight, Mike and I will feast on:
*Juliette cheese from the Salt Spring Island cheese company, out in B.C. I've written about them, and this cheese in particular, in the past. They do good work, and this is their finest example, in my humble opinion.
*Mango and avocado salad with a nuoc-cham dressing.
*Quail braised in red wine, with tomatoes and mushrooms, over polenta.
*Coffee ice cream (Store-bought. Can't be helped.) with homemade Dulce de Leche. Which is so good, I may not share any.

Quail are small, silly birds, in the pheasant family. The meat is quite tasty, but there's not lots of it. They aren't very expensive, either. I wanted the sauce to be very rich and mushroom-y to complement the meat, but I didn't have any dried mushrooms to create that depth of flavour. Pasta G is closed on Mondays, and the Asian Market was too far out of my way. So I substituted white truffle oil, drizzled on top.

I generally always braise the same way: brown the meat, deglaze the pan with wine, sweat a mirepoix, then bump up the total liquid volume with heated tomatoes and stock, and finally toss in some bay leaves and herbs. In this case, I browned mushrooms before I sweated the mirepoix (a mix of cremini and white button), I used more wine and no stock, and didn't use quite enough tomatoes. I think a little more would have thickened the sauce a bit.

Dulce de Leche is a miraculous thing, and quite frankly, the very best use of canned sweetened condensed milk, as far as I can tell. It is a milk caramel sauce or spread of Spanish origin, and it's common in Spanish, Portugese, Mexican, and Argentinian confectionary. You can peel the label off a can, poke a hole in the top, set it in a pot of water that comes nearly to the top, and simmer it for hours (like 4). The result is a light brown, sticky caramel that is so heavenly, you'll want to drizzle it on anything that stands still. Stove top dulce de leche-making, however, can be dangerous if you let the pot of water boil dry. You can, of course, make it from scratch, cooking sugar, milk and vanilla very slowly, for a VERY long time, stirring almost constantly, until the water evaporates out of the milk and the sugar caramelizes with the milk solids.

Here's an easier way:
Crank your oven to 425F. Scrape the contents of a can of sweetened, condensed milk into an oven-safe glass dish (like a pie plate, or loaf pan). Salt it with sea salt, or fleur de sel (this will emphasize the caramel flavour over the sheer sweetness). Cover the pie plate tightly with foil, then set it in a larger pan filled with enough hot water to come up 3/4 of the way up the sides of the pie dish.

Pop it in the oven for 75 minutes, topping up the water level as it boils off.

Be so careful taking it out of the oven- there is boiling water, steam, and boiling hot caramel, all of which hurt like the dickens if you slosh it on yourself. You could leave it to cool, but what I like to do is: fish out the pie plate, and carefully pry off the foil. There will be a pond of water on the top of the surface of the caramel. Carefully pour it off- the resulting dulce de leche is fairly solid, and won't slide out of the pan too easily. Vigorously whisk the caramel to break up the lumps, and to make it the best ever, whisk in 1 tablespoon or two of butter. Let cool, refrigerate.

Delicious, rich, smooth, complex flavours, all from a can of nasty old sweetened condensed milk!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Finally, a dinner worth writing about!

*Canary melon, speck and arugula salad
*Rack of Ontario lamb with asparagus, new potatoes, pine nuts, chevre and basil pesto
*Vanilla ice cream with warm rhubarb compote

Such a delicious dinner, and finally one worth writing about! For starters, speck. I used Italian speck, not Jewish speck, which is not really available anywhere anymore (it is the spiced, smoked and grilled fat cap from a pickled brisket, and is incredibly delicious, possibly still available by special order from Schwartz's.). Italian speck is smoked prosciutto, and is delicious in its own way, plus, if you squint your tongue, you can kind of imagine the delicate smokiness of the ham calling on the smokiness of smoked meat from Schwartz's, a nice mouth-memory activity for two completely unrelated items. Cantaloupe is an ultra-traditional accompaniment to prosciutto, but the football-shaped canary melon, with its white flesh and sweet, gentle taste, was a nice foil to the more aggressive speck.

I generally don't like basil pesto, a byproduct of having had to make too much of it at my last job (we used to make enormous batches of pesto and freeze it, and one spring, the farmers that grew the basil for us brought us 15 ultra-husky garbage bags of basil plants. I made pesto for 17 hours, and since then, have been a little iffy on the taste, not to mention the smell. I avoid it wherever possible, and find the store bought kind particularly cloying). I really wanted to make a mint-hazelnut pesto to accompany the lamb, to bring out the spicy-sweet notes of gamy Ontario lamb, but I couldn't find mint at the erstwhile Food Basics. I made the pesto without cheese, and with rather more pine nuts and oil so that it was saucier and less pasty than it would otherwise have been. Drizzled over the perfectly medium rare lamb, and topped with crumbled chèvre and scattered pine nuts, it was perfect.

Saucy, no cheese pesto:
In a food processor, grind one large clove of garlic, the add 1 cup clean basil leaves. Pulse until basil is in small bits, then add 1/3 c. toasted pine nuts, sea salt and freshly ground pepper, and whizz, while drizzling in enough olive oil to make the mess loose and saucy.

And, medium-rare rack of lamb:
Preheat your oven to 400F. Have your meat sitting out at room temperature for an hour or so, then liberally sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides. Sear in hot oil, about 1 minute each side, so that the outside fat turns brown and forms a caramelized crust. Pop it in the oven for 18 minutes, then remove it from the pan, and let it rest 10 minutes before separating the individual bones. If you separate them and find that the meat in the center of the rack is too rare for you (this has never happened to me), you can turn on your broiler and bring the meat up a shade or two, watching carefully to not overdo it.

As for dessert, rhubarb compote is dead easy: cut the rhubarb stalks into inch long pieces (never use the toxic leaves), put into a pot with enough water to leave the rhubarb uncovered by 2 inches. Add 1/2 cup of sugar per pound of rhubarb, 1/2 cinnamon stick (which you can take out when the compote is cinnamony enough), and the juice and peel of 1/2 lemon. You can take the peel off the lemon using a vegetable peeler, so it stays in large strips that you can fish out at the end. Let it all come to a boil, then lower the heat to simmer until the rhubarb disintegrates into fibrous strands, and the juice thickens into a tangy-sweet syrup. Freeze, or refrigerate, and use as a topping for ice cream, pancakes, or even as a base for a sauce for meat- rabbit comes to mind.

Also, I'm not much of a photographer, and in real life, the meat was way pinker, and the pesto and asparagus were way less brown. I don't particularly know how to take pictures of food so that the food looks as delicious as it actually was. I am open to suggestions.