December 29, 2009

Turbo-charged Turducken!

With the Open House behind us, Christmas Day - and 14 guests for dinner - loomed large.  And fresh turducken - that weirdly wonderful combination of turkey, duck and chicken - was finally in my sight lines for the main course.

Fiesta Farms was the go-to place, as weirdly wonderful as turducken.  A 9 lb. turducken seemed a reasonable amount for 14 people, even accounting for the three vegetarians.  And who better to assemble it for us than Danny, the charming and enthusiastic butcher at Fiesta?

Here it is, pre-cook, in all its fleshy glory:

Umm, maybe we should have gone with the 7 lb....

Into the extra pan to catch the drippings...

Let me digress a moment while the TurboChef does its magic. 

Our uber-cool, custom red TurboChef makes me happy. The snappy look is by frog design, and while I roll my eyes at their description of the design process - frog sought the honest voice of the consumer audience - it worked. I don't know that it's my "honest voice” that responded to the appeal of the TurboChef. I just know that cooking a perfectly juicy roast chicken in less than 30 minutes can’t be beat. Or having deeply rosy rack of lamb done and cut into chops in less than 10.

So there was no question in my mind that our first turducken would need to be made at warp speed in the TurboChef. 

Setting the oven for a turkey didn't seem quite right - the darn turducken looked more like a veal roast on steroids than a stuffed turkey.  Hmm...veal roast...that seemed like a good setting to try. The temperature was right - 350F.  The time sure sounded good - two hours.  And the results?


To table, everyone...

December 22, 2009

The Remains of the Day

Of the 80+ guests, all in festive spirits and hungry as bears.  Of the 21 delectable dishes artfully arranged on the dining room table, buffet style.  Of the oh-so-pretty house, done up with Christmas greenery, a big old fat real Christmas tree and lots of love.  Of the kitchen island, laden with sparkling glasses, lined up soldier-straight, next to choices of cheery punch, or more grown up prosecco, red or white wine. Of the kitchen, put to work under the watchful eye of Ian, juggling food prep along with the team of four servers.

Yes - sadly - the new kitchen's inaugural first ever Open House - and our 14th - will have to live on in memory only.  There's still time to share the delectable recipes though and of course I seemed to remember to take photos before - when all the cooking was underway - and after...

Baby potatoes for three cheese fondue:

Marinated and pre-seared lamb chops for pistachio-crusted lamb "lollipops":

Tunisian bean dip being swirled into submission:

And the very generous expression of our guests, who support our holiday tradition of bringing a donation for the Daily Bread Food Bank:

Well, Christmas dinner - and our first ever turducken - are just around the corner.  Watch this space for the results!

December 19, 2009

Only one more sleep!

Haven't posted for a while - we have been in a whirl of activity getting ready for tomorrow's Open House.  It promises to be record attendance, and we are ready! 

Cookie baking and decorating complete: check.

Agonising over, selecting and then cooking what will end up being way too much food: check.

Getting the house beautiful: a given!

Now it's time to sleep and pray for a green Christmas.

December 10, 2009

Start Me Up Redux

According to S. John Ross, a sourdough starter should take three to four days to form.

This is what I had after 48 hours...

Here's the thing.  When I broke the dough "seal" that had bubbled through the nailhead opening at the top of the jar, it had the right smell.  A pleasant sour or beery smell.  Plus it looked right:

I decided to take a chance, feed the starter again, and see what happened that evening.

Same thing.  Same crusty top. Same delicious bread-y smell.  Same great bubbly look.

Re-read S. John Ross.

Here's the gist: When your starter develops a bubbly froth, it is done. You have succeeded. If this sounds brain-dead simple, that's because it is. People who didn't believe the Earth was round did this for millenia.

Hmm.  Guess I'm brain-dead this week.  Seems the starter was done two days ago.  So my lovely starter is now in the fridge, collecting hootch.  God and time permitting, I'll tackle a sourdough loaf this weekend. 

December 07, 2009

Sunday Night Dinner with Rich...the Farmers' Market Edition

We haven't had much of a chance to do a leisurely Sunday night cookbook "date" dinner in quite a while.  The Open House is two weeks away (major cookie baking this weekend); charity ball on Saturday night (in honour of the Bollywood theme, I wore a beautiful borrowed sari and lots of safety pins!); and both of us trying to rid ourselves of the season's first - and hopefully only - cold.

But we did go to the Green Barn Farmers' Market, at the Artscape Wychwood Barns and even though December has put a definite crimp in the offerings, there was still plenty of good things to buy - and eat.

...including Nuala's delicious scones and Irish soda bread.  Yummy when toasted and slathered with butter!

First thing to buy was the "main" for dinner and we found halibut from Goldwater Seafoods, a Canadian company specialising in Nova Scotian seafood.

The greens came from Everdale's great selection of goodies.  A bag of assorted greens, perfect for sauting, for only $3.00.

Vicki's Veggies provided the delicious salad greens and parsnips. 

Dinner is a very simple affair.  Halibut slow poached in olive with lemon and dill; braising greens sauteed in garlic, shallots and chili pepper flakes, with some sauteed baby parsnips added in for crunch and nutty flavour; and Asian greens dressed simply with balsamic vinegar and olive oil.  The perfect early winter dinner, filled with local goodness.

Sunday Night Farmers' Market Dinner for Two

Oven-poached Halibut in Olive Oil
adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook
serves two to three

1 lb. halibut fillet
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp fresh ground pepper
2 tbsp capers, rinsed
1 1/2 large lemons, thinly sliced
3 tbsps. chopped fresh dill, with additional for garnish
1 1/2 - 2 c. olive oil

1. Preheat oven to 250F

2. Pat fish dry, then sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Let stand for 10 minutes. Chop 1 tbsp of the capers

3. Arrange half of lemon slices in one layer in an 8-inch round glass baking dish. Arrange fish in one layer over lemons. Top with chopped and remaining whole capers, remaining lemons slices, and the dill, and pour oil over the fish until barely covered.

4. Bake, covered, until fish just flakes and is cooked through, about 1 hour.

Serve fish with some of the lemon slices, capers and olive oil spooned on top. Garnish with dill if desired.

Sauteed Autumn Greens
serves two generously

4 cups assorted kales and autumn greens, washed (do not dry the leaves)
1 tbsp olive oil
2 small garlic cloves, minced
1 medium shallot, minced
Pinch red chili pepper flakes, or to taste
Baby parsnips
Water as needed (approx. 1/4 cup)

1.  Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick skillet until hot. 

2.  Add the garlic and shallots and saute for a couple of minutes or until fragrant.  Add red chili pepper flakes and saute for one minute more.

3.  Add any tougher kale to the pan first and saute for until softened.  Add remaining greens; stir and cover for a couple of minutes until greens are softened but not wilted. Remove and set aside in serving bowl.

4. In the same pan, add the parsnips and stir until hot. Add water, cover pan, and saute on high heat, about five minutes or until parsnips are tender but still crunchy.  Add the greens, season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.

Set the table and serve it forth!

December 06, 2009

Start Me Up...

Since last March, I've been trying, infrequently and without great success, to make sourdough bread starter.  My desire to get it right was recently reignited by The Omnivore's Dilemma, which I finally got around to reading.

In case you've always wondered what sourdough starter is, here's the definition from Wikipedia:

Sourdough is a dough containing a lactobacillus culture, usually in symbiotic combination with yeasts. It is one of two principal means of leavening in bread baking, along with the use of cultivated forms of yeast (Saccharomyces)...In comparison with yeast-based breads, it produces a distinctively tangy or sour taste, mainly because of the lactic acid produced by the lactobacilli; the actual medium, known as "starter" or levain, is essentially an ancestral form of pre-ferment.

Huh? If that leaves you as confused as me, I prefer this much simpler definition from S. John Ross:

Sourdough bread is bread made without added yeast. By making a "starter" in which wild yeast can grow, the sourdough baker can raise bread naturally, as mankind did for thousands and thousands of years before a packet of yeast was an available convenience at the local market...There are only a few simple steps to becoming a sourdough baker. First, you must create a starter: This is a bubbly batter that you keep in your fridge. The starter is mixed into a dough, and it causes the bread to rise. Bake and serve. Yum!

His recipe is one that was given to me by my friend Mike, a Syrian financial guru who loves to bake bread.  My kind of guy.

It seems so EASY - but I either forget about it in the first 24 to 48 hours (not a pretty sight), or it seems to develop way too quickly (lots of "hootch" on day one!) or it doesn't smell right.  I've tried organic unbleached bread flour; organic all purpose flour; 00 flour, all to no avail. So here is attempt number four or five. Using what my mother used all her life: good ole Five Roses flour.

Day One:

This morning...

Progress reports will follow throughout the week!

November 22, 2009

Only One Month, 27 Days and 775 Hours Until the Open House...

My niece Helina loves Christmas. Just about this time of year, she starts signing off emails with the exact Christmas countdown. Around here, Christmas always comes early: it’s called Liz and Rich’s Annual Holiday Open House. This year will be especially exciting - our first OH with the new kitchen!   

Invitations have been sent; menu planned; servers booked, even the wine is bought, stored and ready to pop open. The cooking marathon officially began this weekend. A bit of prep work done earlier in the week: filling for mini tortiere pies made, dough chilling in the fridge; caramelized onions for baked Brie done and frozen. It’s the only way that a couple of dozen or more hors d’ouevres make it to the sagging buffet table the day of.

This weekend the cooking started in earnest. We tackled the tortiere assembly and make dozens of mini beef wellingtons, a favourite recipe from Food & Wine magazine that first made an appearance at the Open House in 2000.

Mini tortieres are a variation this year - normally made without a "top" and baked in advance, this year I thought I'd try to truly make them like mini pies and freeze them without baking.

Of course it starts with the fabulous Julia dough!

All in all, a great start to the annual cooking countdown.  Dinner was delish too - Asian chicken noodle soup made with frozen homemade stock and chicken; freshly baked pizza and a mini tarte tatin  - the one I made two weeks ago and froze as a bit of an experiment.  It works! The crust isn't nearly as flaky and light but the taste still can't be beat...

November 15, 2009

A Life With No Left Turns

Sometimes the hardest part about being far away from someone is not the lack of communication - the phone gets a good workout - but rather the true lack of connectivity - the kind that comes from seeing touching and smelling someone. 

On a day when it was hard to get a good connection, in every sense of the word, reading this story reminded me of what really matters.  I need to start walking more and making fewer left hand turns.

November 10, 2009

Apple of My Eye

Ah, autumn.  Love the crispy air, the crunchy apples, the cinammon and crimson leaves.  Feels like it's time to turn up the oven and bake bake bake.

I went to the Green Barn Market at the Wychwood Arts Barn this weekend, as I do every Saturday morning.  The veggies on display are getting sparse - no more heirloom tomatoes, scarcely any parsnips, but still lots of kale, carrots, potatoes, onions, pears, the season's last gerbera daisies and ..... apples.  Northern Spy, Russet, Jonagold, Honey Crisp, Ambrosia, Cortland, abundance of apples, all with spots and blemishes and deep orchard goodness.  These aren't your supermarket beauties.  They have heft and weight and skins so taut that the juice flies when you take that first big bite.  Yum. A perfect eating - and baking - buffet.

Of course some of those pretty pinks had to come home with me.

First on the list was my by-now old stand-by - Tarte Tatin.  The apples were so huge that I ended making a regular sized one and a "mini". Experiment time - I've tried feeezing the already cooked and baked tatins.  We'll see what a thaw and reheat does.

Then on to "Apple of Her Eye" Apple Pie, from the New Basics.  My copy is so worn that it's held together with a large rubber band, but I refuse to buy a new copy.  It would take too long to transpose the notes and scribbles beside each recipe tried (don't double the curry for the Curried Zucchini Soup!).  I've chosen Northern Spies - good eating, and excellent baking.  My "Julia" dough is at the ready. 

Now it's just a matter of the therapeutic peeling, dicing and seasoning. 

Roxanne Potvin is rocking in the background (when i put you back together, with my iron and my solder...).  A little bit of cardamom instead of all cinammon.  A bit of tweaking with the tender and forgiving dough. A bit of dough deco, although whether they look like the leaves they're supposed to be or just blobs, I'm not sure.  A bit of a chill and then well wrapped for a deep dive in the freezer. 

So how long do these things bake for when they come out of the freezer rock solid?

Apple of Her Eye Pie
adapted from The New Basics cookbook, by Julee Rosso & Sheila Lukins

Pastry - use Julia Child's fab All-Purpose Pie Dough - Pâte Brisée Fine recipe (see My Life in France post from September 20!)

8 tart apples (I used Northern Spies, but Granny Smiths will do in an out-of-season pinch. I found that 6 Spies was enough)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons ( ½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch ground cinammon

1. Prepare Julia's dough. Divide dough into two slightly uneven halves. Wrap both halves, and chill in refrigerator for two hours or overnight (can be frozen for one month as well)

2. Preheat the oven to 350 F.

3. Prepare the filling: Core, halve and peel the apples. Cut them into one inch chunks. Toss with lemon juice as you are chopping to prevent apples from turning brown. Combine chopped apples and melted butter in a large bowl. Add the remaining filling ingredients, and toss until the apples are evenly coated.

4. Roll the smaller portion of chilled dough out on a lightly floured surface to form a 12-inch circle. Transfer to a 10-inch pie plate, and press into the bottom and sides of the plate. Trim the dough, leaving a 1-inch overhang. Reserve excess dough.

5. Roll the larger portion of dough out to form a slightly larger circle.

6. Fill the pie plate with the apple mixture, mounding it slightly. Brush the edge of the bottom crust with water. Then transfer the top crust over the apples, tucking it slightly inside the rim. Trim off any excess, allowing a 1-inch overhang. Seal the edges of the crust together with a fork and crimp decoratively. Trim away any excess dough.

7. Prepare the topping: Mix together the sugar and cinnamon. Prick the top crust with a fork in several places, and cut a small vent in the centre. Brush the top lightly with water and sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar. If you like, cut out shapes, such as leaves or apples, from the dough trimmings and decorate the top crust with them.

8. Bake until the filling is bubbling and the top is golden, 1 ¼ hours.

8 portions

*Because I froze the pie, I didn't do the topping.  When I bake the pie,I think I will use super crunchy big flake sugar instead.

November 04, 2009

A Bite-Sized Moment

Rich always has great stories from China. And even better photos.  He should be the one with the blog.  Here's an excerpt from an email I got this week.

"At the Canton Fair they have "buyers’ lounges" where one (mainly Westerners) can go and relax. They serve some refreshments: coffee, tea, juice, water, cookies, etc.

Amongst the offerings were three kinds of bread; "bread" which was basically your slices of Wonder bread, piled on a plate. Then you had "wheat bread" which was a little bun, like a hockey puck. And then, as the photo shows, you had what was really a hotdog bun, called "France bread" - I think because it kinda, sorta looked like a baguette."

He calls these stories "bite-sized moments" - things that happen in a flash, but over time, create a crazy tapestry of memories.  More and more he is taking his camera with him everywhere, but there are still a few that only live on in his "mind's eye". I still regret the lost photo of the 4'9" little old Chinese lady in the oversized T-shirt that had a silhouette of a rastafarian with "DUDE" superimposed on top...

November 01, 2009

The Witching Hour

It's Halloween, and once again I handed out treats to the kiddies on my own. Rain threatened all day, but miraculously held off, resulting in a blustery, windy kind of evening for trick or treating.  Sixteen kids this year; never many in our neighbourhood.  A perfectly respectable pumpkin carved by moi, complete with batty grin.

Rich, back in HK until late November, is enjoying his sole day off of the week by sitting by the pool.  It's 28C in Hong Kong but the fashionistas have already started wearing their fleece-lined, fur-collared ski vests with chic jeans and boots. 

Funny to speak to someone twice a day, exactly 12 hours apart and million miles away.  Seems it's often around food: me, drinking my morning coffee; he, eating sushi for dinner, but both of us present in that shared moment.

Tonight I was inspired by trailrunner on Gardenweb to try making ciabatta style pizza, and was just tackling the very wet dough when Rich called.  As he drank his morning Starbucks, I struggled to stretch sticky dough onto parchment paper, slide the gooey circle onto a baking stone and cut up toppings.  The dough wasn't wet enough - instead of stretching to nearly the edges of the stone, it shrunk in on itself, protectively yielding a scant 9" circle.

The pizza is baked twice - once to set the crust, and then again with the toppings.  All in all a 20 minute process, just about as long as we chat on these twice daily check-ins.  The pizza was ready after we had hung up the phone, so of course I had to call back and report on the results.

Eye appeal: A

Lightly crusted dough, perfectly melted cheese and just right charred toppings - yum!

Crust: B

Rustic "holey" ciabatta-like appearance, but just too darn thick.  Like a calzone disguised as a pizza.  Gotta get the dough to spread more!

Taste: well, I'm biased :-)

I mean, who would say no to a homemade pizza dinner that looked like that? And it was pretty damn good for a first time out.

Still and all, a great meal alone is ... a lonely thing.  As I eat my solitary meal, I'd trade that perfectly browned crust and my glass of Chianti for any old morsel with Rich.  Sigh.