Wednesday, January 25, 2012

ginger, ginger, ginger

Ginger ginger ginger! So spicy, complex, delicious: pickled, in asian dishes, candied or in syrup. Last week I tried to make my own candied ginger. It turned out a little drier and more caramelized than I would have liked, but delicious none the less. David Lebovitz told me to slice the ginger as finely as possible, which I think was my downfall - I went overboard. Anyways, here's the recipes I used:

Alton Brown's Candied Ginger and David Lebovitz's Candied Ginger

What to do with all that ginger? Dip in in chocolate, mix it into granola, throw into baked goods. Eat it straight!

Also, I found myself with a bunch of left over simple syrup, strongly flavoured with ginger. I boiled it down and mixed in a cup or so of honey: voila! Ginger honey! Delicious in hot water with lemon to take off the winter chill.

my favourite lunch: grilled cheese

brie and apple grilled cheese

The best combination - creamy brie, sweet apples, crispy, buttery bread. A revelation: mustard is awesome in grilled cheese, and of course I'm talking about Koslick's awesome maple mustard (the mustard man at St. Lawrence Market).

This sandwich here? Triple creme brie, thinly sliced apples, maple mustard and olive oil.

I'm not going to give you instructions on how to make a grilled cheese, I think it's a skill most of us learned early on in the kitchen. I am, however, going to suggest that you reconsider your ingredients and switch things up. Use new types of bread, olive oil instead of butter, exciting cheeses, condiments, tomatoes, apples, caramelized onions... the possibilities are endless!

A new trick I learned? Using my new mandolin to cut the apple slices. They were so thin that they cooked right through in the sandwich, making a gooey, soft and sweet centre.

meet mr. mandoline

Mandolines are a slightly scary kitchen tool - one wrong move and you've shaved off the end of your finger. However, everything fun is a little bit dangerous, right? A mandolin is a necessary tool for creating paper-thin slices, beautiful and delicious in many recipes. Think of finely sliced potatoes in a gratin, or ribbons of beets or carrots for salads.

Here's a fast, fresh salad for winter - storage carrots and greenhouse cucumbers in delicate ribbons, with tangy, lemon dressing.

carrot and cucumber salad

1 carrot, scrubbed and sliced on a mandoline
1/2 cucumber, sliced on a mandoline
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp olive oil
a handful of cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Toss to combine!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

dumplings, rice and sweet carrots

I've been thinking a lot recently about the idea of menu planning - that perfect combination of dishes, connected by a theme, ingredient, season, region or feeling. Especially in Toronto, where every possible type of food is available, meals can sometimes become a mash-up of ingredients and dishes that don't really work together. But once in a while, a menu works perfectly. All the flavours work together. And don't forget the weather - beyond the simple fact of season, winter is a time for filling, starchy, hearty meals. Think roots, apples, vegetables that store well, spices and flavours that warm you up.

Menu planning can be difficult. It involves planning ahead, the mix-and-matching of recipes and ingredients. Try looking at the back of your favourite cookbook for ideas. Often, authors will group recipes by culture, theme or season. Or, check out Jamie Oliver's new cookbook Meals in Minutes. He's done all the work for you, and created tons of delicious meals, complete with side dishes and desserts.

Here's an asian inspired dinner for my boyfriend, complete with his favourite pot stickers and some green, spinachy rice. I didn't include a dessert, but a tapioca or rice pudding would finish the meal off spectacularly.

split pea or pork dumplings  -  green sesame rice  -   braised carrots with sesame and honey

I posted a detailed recipe for dumplings a few weeks ago, but here's a list of filling ideas. Remember, you can pan-fry, steam, or boil these little guys in soup or broth! They are incredible versatile and freeze very well.

Traditional pork filling, from Epicurious
Yellow split pea, from 101 Cookbooks
Tofu and veggies, from Alton Brown
Tempeh potstickers, from Herbivoracious 

green sesame rice
inspired by this post at They Draw and Cook - Sesame Green Rice. I used spinach instead of kale, but only because a certain someone who lives with me hasn't warmed up to the deliciousness of kale. Yet.

braised carrots with sesame and honey
Try substituting maple syrup and olive oil for a vegan version. Braising is a great, fast way to prepare root vegetables - it's fast like boiling, but you reduce the cooking liquid down to keep all the nutrients in the dish.

4 or 5 carrots, peeled and cut in 1 inch chunks
1 cup water
1 tbsp honey (or maple syrup)
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp toasted sesame seeds
Sesame oil, salt and pepper

Combine carrots, water, honey and butter in a pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer until almost all the liquid is gone. Turn the heat down, and sauté for another minute, stirring frequently. Add the sesame seeds, and finish with a splash of sesame oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

vegetarian carbonara

Carbonara, whatever kind of noodle you choose, usually has bacon, parmesan and eggs. Yes, eggs! That creamy sauce is created not with cream, but by stirring eggs into hot, cooked pasta (although if you order carbonara outside of Italy, it probably has cream in it). Here's a delicious recipe I found by way of 101 Cookbooks January favourites list - Pasta with Greens "Carbonara" from Gilt Taste.

(The byline says it's for bacon lovers, but without bacon; because as any vegetarian will tell you, if they were forced to eat meat, they would choose bacon. It's been the undoing of many a herbivore.)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

espresso chili, cheddar cornbread and kale slaw

Here's a great winter menu: hearty, rich espresso chili, with a crispy cheddar cornbread for dipping, followed by a wintery and fresh kale slaw

Who doesn't want a big bowl of chilli after a weekend of skating and sledding? Well, no sledding yet, still waiting for that snow, but I've definitely been breaking in my new hockey skates.

This chili is a nice departure from plain old tomato-chili powder-onions fare. Every time I make a staple dish (vegetable stew, quiche, squash soup), I like to try out a new flavour combination or recipe. It keeps things interesting! This one is from David Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. The cornbread is also from his cookbook, but I added cheese, corn and green onions to spice things up.

(Even my cat thinks it smells delicious.) The kale slaw is from the Moosewood Collective's Cooking for Health, except I used my own favourite salad dressing instead of their suggestion. Like other vinaigrette coleslaws, it keeps well in the fridge for a few days.

espresso chili
3 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tbsp chili powder
1 can diced or crushed tomatoes
1/2 cup strong coffee or espresso
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cinnamon stick
2 cups dried pinto or black beans, soaked overnight and cooked
(or 2 14-oz cans of cooked beans, rinsed)
salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add onions, and cook 5 minutes. Add garlic and chili powder, and cook another minute. Add tomatoes, coffee, brown sugar, cinnamon, beans, salt and pepper. Simmer for 1 hour, covered, on low heat, stirring every once in a while. Serve with this delicious cornbread...

cheddar cornbread
2 tbsp butter
1 1/2 cup cornmeal
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cup buttermilk or yogurt
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 green onion, minced
1 cup frozen corn kernels

If you have a cast iron skillet, use it! Preheat the oven to 350, and pop the skillet in the oven with the butter. (Preheating the skillet with help develop a crispy, buttery crust.) If you don't have a skillet, grease a 9x9 pan with the butter. Combine cornmeal, flour, baking powder, sugar and salt in a bowl. In another bowl, beat together the egg and buttermilk. Combine the flour mixture and the egg-milk mixture. Stir until just combined. Stir in cheese, onion and corn. Pour into skillet or pan, and bake for 20-25 minutes, until a fork comes out clean and the edges are browned.

kale slaw
1 apple, grated
1 carrot, grated
1/4 head of cabbage (about 1 cup grated)
4 or 5 large dino (aka black) kale leaves, stems removed, sliced finely
4 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp grainy mustard
salt and pepper

In a bowl, combine apple, carrot, cabbage and kale. You want to kale and cabbage sliced as finely as possible - use a grater attachment on a food processor, or a mandolin if you have one. In a jar, combine oil, vinegar, maple syrup, mustard, salt and pepper. Close the jar, and shake to help emulsify the dressing. Pour over salad, mix, and let sit at room temperature for half an hour. This helps soften the kale and cabbage.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

candied orange slices

candied orange slices
4 cups sugar plus another 1/2 cup
4 cups water
1 cinnamon sticks
4 or 5 star anise pieces
10 cloves
2 oranges, cold from the fridge

Combine 4 cups sugar, water and spices in a large pot. Bring to a boil, and simmer until the sugar dissolves. Slice the oranges as thin as possible - about an 1/8th of a inch. Using one orange at a time - around 15 slices - put the oranges in the pot. Simmer for about 30 minutes, then flip the oranges over, and simmer for another 30 minutes. Remove the oranges, and dry them in the oven for an hour at 200 degrees, on a wire rack. Finally, sprinkle another 1/2 cup sugar on the orange slices before they cool. This will absorb any moisture that's left. One last step that will make these even more delicious: dip them in melted chocolate! They'll keep for a few weeks in a container at room temperature.

(Don't throw out the simple syrup that's left over from cooking the oranges - check out this recipe for a way to use it up - spiced apple gin fizz).

spiced apple gin fizz

I invented this for my christmas party, only because I had a bunch of simple syrup leftover from making candied orange slices. However, simple syrup is great to have around for creating all sorts of cocktails and non-boozy drinks. Just combine equal parts of sugar and water in a pot, and simmer until the sugar dissolves. You can flavour it with whatever you like: mint, tea bags, citrus zest or ginger. For this recipe, I steeped star anise, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange zest in the simple syrup. It will keep for months in the fridge.

spiced apple gin fizz
1 oz gin
1/2 oz spiced simple syrup
2 oz apple cider
2 oz club soda

Combine all ingredients over ice and stir.

(if you want to be real fancy, try freezing cranberries in ice cubes - it turns plain old ice cubes into gorgeous, festive drink coolers!)