January 31, 2010

Say Cheese

Leftovers are a beautiful thing, especially on a Friday night at the end of a long week.  Refrigerator check: paltry pickings. Several kinds of cheese, leftover chicken, assorted veggies, enough to make a salad. On any other night that would seem a perfectly reasonable and fast alternative to cooking something from scratch.

There was something else - the balsamic onion marmalade we made from The Zuni Café Cookbook last weekend.  Nothing seemed immediately obvious, certainly not anything that could be teased into some semblance of a main dish.  But that marmalade was so good - jammy and tart and sweet all at the same time - that it seemed a shame not to use it somehow.
And so to one person dinner standby - the grilled cheese sandwich.  No reason not to make a gourmet version.  Rowe Farms bacon, some beautifully nutty Gruyère cheese, the marmalade, all nestled between two slices of Nuala's Irish soda bread, sparingly spread with unsalted butter.  I toast the sandwich slooooowly on a cast iron griddle over low heat.  A glass of wine is the perfect complement to what turns out to be a delightful dinner chez moi.

Balsamic Onion Marmalade
adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook

Two medium red onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp kosher salt
2 tbsp tupelo honey
1 small bay leaf
¾ c. red wine, such as Pinot Noir
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp sherry vinegar

1.  Combine onions, oil and salt in a medium saucepan over low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.  Uncover and continue cooking until any moisture has evaporated, about 10 minutes more.

2.  Stir in the honey and cook for five minutes.  Add the bay leaf and red wine, bring to a simmer and cook until the wine is syrupy, about 45 minutes. 

3. Add the two vinegars and cook until the liquid is syrupy again.  Taste and adjust for salt, sweetness and acidity.

4.  Raise the heat slightly to evaporate the last of the liquid, about 5 minutes.  The marmalade should be glossy, with a deep rich colour.

Makes approx. 1 cup.  Keeps, well-covered and refrigerated, for several weeks.

January 27, 2010

An Old Fashioned Cocoa

There's a wonderful little cafe that just opened by our house...CocoaLatte.  It's a small family-run business, with a delicious assortment of paninis, wraps, all things eggy and of course an extensive menu of teas and coffees.  Just big enough to still be cozy, with a fireplace tucked in the back and comfy chairs, CocoaLatte is the perfect place to stop after our weekly market run.  The signature drink is - naturally - cocoalatte: a tall frothy latte with a generous dollop of rich cocoa at the bottom.  Rich stirs it up; I sip it slowly, waiting for the final prize of a mouthful of chocolatey coffee. 

It reminded me that, while I drink coffee daily, I just don't drink cocoa nearly enough.  On a day when the thermometer finally dipped, and stayed, below 0C, it's exactly what I want. Ella may have her love to keep her warm, but with Richard more than 12,000 kilometres away, cocoa will have to do.

Liz's Late Night Cocoa
makes one luscious cup of cocoa

½ bar organic mik chocolate (I use Prestat Chocolates)
¾ cup organic skim milk
⅛ cup organic 35% cream, or to taste

1.  Using a double boiler*, heat water to a gentle simmer.  Break up the chocolate bar and begin to melt slowly in the pan.

*Have you tried the De Buyer Stainless Steel Bain Marie Cooker? It's an amazing all-in-one double boiler that is perfect for melting chocolate, making sauce, simmering custard or any other slow, low heat task you need to do.

2. As the chocolate melts, add the milk and stir with a mini whisk to break up chocolate particles and blend.  Add cream and swirl again.

3. Heat until very hot, but do not boil.  A final swirl, pour and sip! 

For a final decadent touch, add a dollop of whipping cream on top.

photo courtesy Prestat Chocolates

January 24, 2010

Sunday Night Dinner with Rich - The Zuni Cafe Edition

Number 19 in an infrequent but always interesting dinner series - the random cookbook Sunday night dinner. This week's edition: The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.

To recap the dinner premise: every Sunday that Rich and I are both in town, we choose a cookbook at random and cook an entire meal from it. The cheat this week was that Sunday night's dinner was actually last night - Saturday. Sadly Rich is jetting to Hong Kong this morning. And so begins the crazy travel calendar for 2010.

But back to dinner. The second cheat is always in the choosing. Although I'm confident that every one of my cookbooks can yield a perfectly respectable, even delicious, meal, Richard is less trusting. So sometimes the random draw becomes a “best of three” effort.

Yesterday was no exception. We started with The World’s Best Recipes, a 1969 relic from my mother. This, from the introduction by Helmut Ripperger:
"You hold in your hand a collection of recipes contributed by the finest cooks in the world. Choice fare of all nations is here in this culinary anthology – prepared as we Americans like it…Whether you and your family are just folks who enjoy good food, or whether you are gourmets who have searched the world for adventures in eating, nowhere will you find more de luxe menu selections than offered here…"
And so on – almost five pages of tiny type on fragile yellow paper. Alas, the Esterházy Rostbraten, the Tournedos Niçoise  and the Biscuit Tortoni, Dom Pedro II, will have to wait for another day. The second draw yielded Blue Ribbon Recipes: Award Winning Recipes from America’s Country Fairs. Nope. Didn’t even merit a flip-through from Richard.

Third time lucky: The Zuni Café Cookbook

On the eve of a journey that will be full of more dim sum than you can shake a chopstick at, Rich gets first choice on what to cook. Happily, Zuni Café is famous for its roast chicken and that’s exactly what he craves.

We start by picking up a chicken and bacon at Rowe Farms

Judy is adamant about salting the bird at least 24 hours in advance (and for at least two days if the bird is more than 3 lbs). Twenty four hours we do not have so we hurry home to salt the chicken before picking up the rest of the meal's ingredients.

The other dishes fall into place around the main course – we’ll start with Rosemary-Grilled Chicken Livers & Bacon with Balsamic-Onion Marmalade Toasts, use the fresh Red Fife linguine I bought at the Green Barn Market in Pasta with Spicy Broccoli & Cauliflower, and serve a side of butter lettuce with a shallot vinaigrette next to the famous Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad.


Zuni Roast Chicken with Bread Salad
a shorthand version from The Zuni Café Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers

While the type isn't tiny and on fragile yellow paper, this recipe is almost as long as Helmut Ripperger's intro: more than four pages. To get the full effect - and the wonderful details - of this recipe, get thee to a cookbook store and buy the book! What follows is an abbreviated taste of the original (ingredients and amounts bolded). We could not find a small chicken, so for our 3¾ lb. bird, we used the maximum cooking times below.

1. Rinse and pat very dry a small (2¾ to 3¼ lb) chicken. Make two small "pockets" under the skin on each side of the breast, and do the same on the outside of the thickest part of the thigh. Using your fingers, slide a sprig of fresh thyme, marjoram, rosemary or sage in the pockets.

2. Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper (¾ teaspoon of salt per pound is the recommended amount). Use less salt on the ankles and wings, and salt the interior of the chicken sparingly. I use a seasoned salt from a tiny farmer's market in Paris that's flavoured with onion, garlic, thyme and oregano.

3. Several hours before you're ready to start roasting the chicken, begin preparing the bread salad. Cut 8 ounces of slightly stale, chewy peasant-style bread (I bought a good quality day-old baguette from my local grocer) into several large chunks. Trim off the bottom crust and most of the top and side crusts. Brush the bread all over with olive oil, and broil, turning once, until the bread is crisp and lightly coloured (about two minutes per side).

4. Trim any charred bits and tear the bread into chunks of various sizes, ranging from 2- to 3- inch wads to crunchy bits. Be careful! the bread is hot. You should have about 4 cups.

5. Combine ¼ cup olive oil with 1½ tbsp. Champagne vinegar and salt and pepper to taste. Toss bread with a ¼ of the vinaigrette (the bread will not be evenly dressed). Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Set aside.

6. Take 1 tbsp dried currants and soak in 1 tsp red wine vinegar and 1 tbsp warm water. Set aside.

Of course, the cooks must have their fun, so it's time a for a drink and a snack. Nothing like a G+T and nothing better than Hendrick's!

Are you ready to roast the chicken?

7. Pre-heat the oven to 500F. If you have a convection setting, use it for the first 30 minutes of roasting. Choose a shallow flameproof roasting pan, or a 10-inch ovenproof skillet with a metal handle - something that is barely bigger than the chicken. Heat the pan over medium heat while you wipe the chicken dry.

STOP! Resist the temptation to add oil to the pan.  By preheating it, and drying the chicken thoroughly, it won't stick - I promise!

8. Set the chicken breast side up in the pan. Place the pan in the centre of the oven; it should start sizzling and browning within 20 minutes. Adjust temperature down if the chicken appears to be charring or smoking. After 30 minutes, remove from oven and turn the bird over. It's getting nice and brown! (Don't forget to turn off the convection setting if you've used it for the first 30 minutes...)

9. While the chicken is roasting, place 2 tbsp pine nuts in a small baking pan and put in the hot oven alongside chicken, to heat through - one to two minutes. Add to the bread salad.

10. Sliver two to three garlic cloves, and saute in a small amount of oil over medium heat with ¼ cup slivered green onions, until softened. Fold into bread salad, along with drained currants. Dribble salad with 2 tbsp chicken broth and fold gently. Taste and adjust for salt. Transfer to a baking dish and tent loosely with foil.

11. Roast chicken for another 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size.

12. Turn the bird one last time to recrisp the breast, another 5 to 10 minutes. At this point, put the bread salad in the oven as well. When the chicken is done, turn off the heat, and remove from oven; leave the bread salad in the oven for another five minutes.

13. Transfer chicken to a plate, and carefully pour fat from the pan. Add one tbsp water to the lean drippings left behind.

14. Slash the skin between the thighs and the breasts of the chicken, and carefully tilt the bird and plate over roasting pan so that the juices pour into the drippings.

15.  Getting close... Set the chicken aside to rest while you finish the salad. Place the roasting pan with the drippings and the chicken juices over medium-low heat and simmer.   Drizzle and toss the bread salad with a spoonful or two of the delicious juices. Add a couple of handfuls of cleaned baby arugula, a drizzle of the vinaigrette and fold gently.

16. Spread the bread salad on a warmed platter, cut the chicken into pieces and serve atop the bread salad.

Oh my goodness. That's good.

January 20, 2010

Cooking with Bonnie

You know when you go to someone's house for dinner and - from the minute you walk in the door - it's like a big, warm hug? 

That's what cooking with Bonnie is like.

Bonnie is Bonnie Stern, Toronto's pre-eminent cooking doyenne. Cooking and eating with Bonnie is like being with your best friend, mother and favourite chef all rolled into one. I went to my first Bonnie Stern cooking class years ago. It was a demonstration class about Mediterranean food. I had never heard of charmoula or Israeli couscous, didn't like lamb, thought watching food being made rather than making it myself wouldn't be any fun.

Bonnie changed all of that, but more importantly changed my attitude towards entertaining at home forever. Always generous with her wisdom and advice, Bonnie encourages her students to ask questions while she cooks. On that night, a woman lamented: “When I have guests over, how can I get the plates to the table so that they’re still hot?” Bonnie smiled and said gently: “Your friends are so happy to be at your home and having someone else cook for them, that they’re not worried about whether the plates are hot or not.” Wise words indeed.

Since that long ago evening, I’ve been blessed to get to know Bonnie personally, and to be invited to her home. The welcome is always enveloping, the food always delicious and the hospitality like family. But last night I was reminded about what Bonnie’s real gift is – the ability to share her passion and love of food, of genuine hospitality even with strangers. At a corporate cooking class with my colleagues at Bonnie’s school, I was both proud friend and eager student: making almond pesto for a gorgeous beet and fresh mozzarella salad, happily slurping cold soba noodles with fat grilled shrimp, setting the table and folding napkins with my co-workers, and finally sitting down to a feast that we helped create with Bonnie's magic.

As always, Bonnie managed to distill the evening's pleasure into simple words of advice: "When you have people over for dinner, make them part of the experience - draw them in. When everyone contributes to the final feast, even if it's as simple a task as cutting the bread or dressing the salad, it tastes even better."

Bon appétit to that!

Carmelised Onions

I've been making Brie with carmelised onions for years.  Eating Bonnie's pizza last night, slathered with carmelised onions on quick puff pastry and laced with Gorgonzola, I was reminded that carmelised onions are just about good with anything.  Double this recipe, freeze half and use liberally for anything from grilled cheese sandwiches to my favourite - a full wheel of Brie cheese, top cut off and spread with onions and baked until meltingly soft at 350F (about 30 minutes).

2 tbsps butter
8 cups sliced onions (about 4 large)
1 tbsp minced fresh thyme
4 garlic cloves, chopped
½ cup dry white wine
½ tbsp sugar

1. Melt butter in heavy very large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté until just tender, about 6 minutes. Add minced thyme, reduce heat to medium and cook until onions are golden, stirring often, about 20 minutes.

2. Add garlic and sauté 2 minutes. Add ¼ cup wine; stir until almost all liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle sugar over onions and sauté until soft and brown, about 10 minutes. Add remaining ¼ cup wine; stir just until liquid evaporates, about 2 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Cool.

January 10, 2010

Making a (French) Toast to Brunch

Is there a meal more perfect than brunch?  A bit of a sleep-in, strata or other gooey eggy thing done the night before, fresh coffee brewing and baguettes bought - or better yet - hot from the oven.  Sizzling bacon, wrapped around rosemary spears.  Portobello mushrooms, taleggio cheese melting off them in a Dali-like wave, redolent with thyme and a touch of garlic.

A bit too much food - didn't need the berry bircher parfaits after all. A lazy meal, lingering and nibbling and - yes - just half of that pain au chocolat, please.  Fresh flowers on the table, sunlight streaming in the tall tall tall kitchen windows. 

A reluctant departure, a leisurely clean up and best of all - the better part of a Sunday afternoon and the New York Times to dive into.  Don't throw out that last piece of French toast! I'll share it with you.

French Toast, Two Ways
The egg dip below makes enough for roughly half a large pannetone and a few slices of French baguette; it's so good you'll need to make more.

1 large pannetone (I used a chocolate pannetone for a decadent version)
One day old French baguette
About 1½ cups milk
About ¼ cup cream (light or heavy, depending on how really decadent you want to be)
Grated zest of one large orange
1 egg
Pinch salt
Butter for cooking
Maple syrup for serving

1. Cut as much pannetone and French baguette into thick slices as you will be cooking, and set aside.

2. Combine the next four ingredients and whisk lightly until egg is well incorporated. The mixture will be thin.

3. Quickly dip the bread slices into the egg mixture so that they are "wet" on both sides.

4.  Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat and melt some unsalted butter in the pan until the surface is glistening.  Place the bread slices in the pan and cook gently until golden and slightly crisp. Turn and repeat.

5. To serve, pile the French toast on a sunny yellow platter, and let the guests dig in. 


And flip....

Don't forget the maple syrup!

January 07, 2010

A Pilgrim’s Progress

pil•grim (\ˈpil-grəm)
1. A religious devotee who journeys to a shrine or sacred place.
2. One who embarks on a quest for something conceived of as sacred.

For what seems like forever now, I have been trying to make a good (read: it works) sourdough starter. I’ve chronicled the recipe (mix flour and water; stir); the first attempts (and there were several pre-blog I am sad to report); the seemingly right bubbly sour-smelling (Richard uses another word I’m loathe to print) mixture.

Yes, somewhat like a pilgrim seeking enlightenment, I am on a quest for that most sacred of things: the perfectly baked, lightly browned and heavenly tasting loaf of bread, made from my very own sourdough starter.

Thus far all I have to show for my journey is one defeated, slighty sticky empty mason jar. 

So, as any good student should, I am going to hit the books.  Surely, amongst all of those many and sundry cookbooks of mine, one will yield the map that will lead me to the Holy Grail?

January 04, 2010

A Blog-Worthy Oatmeal

Belt tightening in effect. Back to a 40-30-30 diet. Steel cut oatmeal, slow cooked and satisfying, especially on a very dark and even colder winter's morning, is the wise and wholesome choice.

But … 6 a.m. comes awfully early and that snooze button is conveniently close. Trixie is burrowing between us on the down comforter, her purrs louder than a pesky alarm clock, signaling me to stay a while longer.  Baby, it’s cold outside.

The perfect solution is really s-l-o-o-o-w cooked oatmeal. Overnight, in fact. No matter what time I reluctantly roll out of bed, it’s ready and waiting, deliciously warm, perfectly cooked and amazingly good for you.

Overnight Oatmeal
serves two over two mornings

1 cup steel cut oatmeal
2 apples, cored and cut into medium size dice (I love Honey Crisps)
4 cups cold water
1 tsp salt (or more/less to taste)
¼ teaspoon cinnamon or to taste
Brown sugar or maple syrup for serving

1. Preheat oven to 225F/105C.

2. Combine oatmeal, apples, water and salt in an ovenproof casserole dish. Cover and place in oven.

3. Cook for 8 hours overnight, or until oatmeal is cooked to a creamy consistency. Stir in cinnamon.

4. To serve, sprinkle with brown sugar or a dash of maple syrup, or go for the purist version and have it as is (my choice!)


January 03, 2010

So long to the holidays...

Abundance of food;
indulgence matches desire...
the scale rests heavy

As I say goodbye to the parties, the gifts, the exuberant spirits and sagging tables, I say a fond farewell to the season’s offerings with my haiku homage to festive feasts.

…And pay tribute to one of my favourite dishes of the season, courtesy of the New York Times. Double it up, spread it over several evenings replete with crusty French bread, and, as Florence Fabricant suggests, “pour an earthy, rustic red from the sprawl of the Languedoc, many of them balancing fruit and tight minerals without making huge demands on the wallet.”

Spiced Chicken Liver Mousse
Serves several as an appetiser; or two with nothing else to eat for dinner and a healthy regard for the joys of rich food cut to the quick with gorgeous red wine*

6 to 8 tablespoons chicken or duck fat, or clarified butter
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 pound chicken livers, connective tissue removed
1 medium onion, chopped
1 inch long piece fresh ginger, peeled and slivered
1/4 cup amontillado sherry
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper.

1. Melt 3 tablespoons fat in a 12-inch skillet. Add mustard, cardamom and cumin and sauté until spices sizzle and are fragrant. Add livers and sauté over medium-low heat, turning, until cooked but still pink inside, about 10 minutes. Remove livers from pan.

2. Add 2 tablespoons fat, onion and ginger to skillet and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add sherry, simmer about 5 minutes until somewhat reduced, stir in cream and cook until it starts to thicken. Transfer livers and contents of skillet to food processor and process until smooth. Season with salt and pepper.

3. Spoon mousse into a crock or bowl and smooth the top. Melt 2 tablespoons remaining fat and pour onto surface of mousse. Use an additional tablespoon of fat if needed to cover the surface. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving. Scrape fat off before serving, or mix it into mousse.

Yield: About 2 cups.

*based on a true story

January 02, 2010

Signs of Spring

It's -16C today. With the wind chill factor it feels like -27C. At the start of the year and in the deep of a Canadian winter, spring feels like a distant dream.

Except… for the unexpected quirks of nature. Our house is filled with Christmas greens - containers full of evergreens, pinecones and deep rich red dogwood branches. On the first day of the year, with the fireplace full of the ashes of the year’s first fire, there was this…

Our dogwood branches, full of green shoots and hidden energy, springing to life in the chill of winter.

Oh glorious Spring…can you really be that far away?