April 25, 2010

Asian Flavours Part Two: Singaporean Chilli Crab

If you've ever been to Singapore, surely you have encountered Chilli Crab.  Served family style in restaurants all over the city, the crabs are swimming in a tomato-based sauce, and always come with deep fried sweet Chinese rolls called mantou that you eat by the dozen to capture the sauce.  There are variations on the theme, the most popular being black pepper crab.  The best places for Chilli Crab are the seafood hawker stalls or the waterside restaurants at and around the East Coast Seafood Centre, although the subject is one that causes heated debate amongst the locals. 

My favourite places are the cheap and cheerful places: very bright lights; plastic tablecloths; skimpy paper napkins; no atmosphere.  But amazing crab.  On this trip, though, we're being treated in style, so the restaurant is a step or two up from the ordinary: Jumbo Seafood.

At Jumbo, the open kitchen and floor to ceiling tanks of all manner of live crustaceans - including a particularly ugly geoduck - make for a different kind of Chilli Crab experience.  Still, the stacks of paper napkins, big water bowls and disposable bibs remind us that this is a place where messy fingers are expected.

 Appetisers include Fried Prawns with Cereal; Donut with Seafood Paste (essentially deep fried dough stuffed with cuttlefish paste); Deep Fried Bean Curd; Marinated Jellyfish

The delicious Chilli Crab

With nutcrackers, we take turns tackling the slippery obstinate shells, extracting the scant meat like so many rare pearls from oysters. Just one more mantou.  Let me try to crack that last crab claw.  Sated and happy, we pile into the waiting cars, fingers still sticky and fragrant.

Although I haven't tried this recipe from Tyler Florence, the ingredients look like they'd make a mighty fine mess 'o chilli crab.  Let me know if you try it!

April 22, 2010

Asian Flavours Part One: Spicy Grandma meets Indochine

For the past two weeks I've been on the road in Asia. Starting in Beijing, my travels have taken me to Shanghai, Hangzhou, Guangzhou and finally Singapore. Travelling on business is never easy; and airplane food is hardly gourmet. But still I’ve managed to see some amazing sights, and have some amazing meals, complete with wacky menu descriptions, unusual tastes, and the hilarity of ordering by “sign and point” (not to mention trying to navigate room service orders).  The way that food manages to connect us to one another - across very different cultures and languages - is one of my favourite things about travel.

Spicy Grandma Restaurant
Beijing Dongcheng District, xin Dongon
Market Quniou North Six-storey 609

If your vision of an authethic Chinese restaurant is one where all things weird and wonderful are on the menu, Spicy Grandma is your stop. Want whole baby turtle? Check.  What about goose tongue? Got it. Hmm - even a bit of snake on offer. Spicy Grandma has it all.  The staff's English is spotty, so we're (very) thankful for the large photo album-style menu, replete with succinct and slightly "off" English captions.

"Gluttonous" frog, courtesy of Spicy Grandma website

Beijing is famous for its roast Peking duck, so that's the first order of business.  This version is Camphorwood and Tea Smoked Duck, and yup - it's clearly recognizable as duck.

Deep-fried baby pork ribs somehow seem appealing too (why not, after a 13 hour flight?), and we round off our meal with sauteed pea shoots and eggplant.  And not just any eggplant - this dish is called Burns the Eggplant in Tile. I mean - really - how could you NOT order that dish just to see what it was? 

Well, actually, we can see what it might look like - an interesting presentation on utilitarian tin foil.  When it arrives, the dish lives up to its advance billing, looking exactly the same as the photo.  It is deeply delicious, the sauce fragrant and garlicky.  We use our steamed rice to soak it up. 

The next day affords us very little time to see much of Beijing, but we manage a quick trip to Tiananmen Square.  The day is beautiful and sunny and the square is full of Chinese tourists, taking photos of the stern very young military guards on duty, the massive monuments and each other.

Multi-generations are travelling together, grandma shepherding young children, grandpa holding grandma's purse as he strolls slowly behind.  The rest of the week is a blur, on a plane or train every day, the rain and bitter northern China weather dampening our spirits and making the jet lag linger longer than usual.  Arriving in Singapore to 35°C from frigid Guangzhou feels like a benediction.  We can't wait to put on lighter clothing and eat outside. 
If Spicy Grandma was China unplugged, Indochine is sleek and sexy Singapore glamour.  Reflecting the unique diversity of Singapore, everything tastes fresh, looks wonderful and is enhanced by the perfect little breeze, the glittering skyline and the wonderful company of my colleagues.

The view from Indochine

From bottom up and counter-clockwise: Vit Quay Gion Ton Kin (Fresh Duck Breast à la Ton Kin): Duck breast fillets grilled with herbs and spices, served with crispy basil leaves, crispy rice noodles and aromatic sweet sauce; Rau Xao Thap Cam (Stir-fried vegetables with basil and chilli): Fresh mixed vegetables seared with herbs and chilli; Cambodian Style Chilli and Basil Chicken: Tender chicken prepared in red chilli, holy basil and garlic sauce.

I especially like the way the menu describes the chicken dish: The aroma of this dish is a true indication of its flavour. After eating this, you may find your mind wandering into the world of the ancient ones who had the ability to create temples and structures that to this day remain unchallenged as great monuments.

I don't know that I am inspired to build temples, though...

Ca Chem Hap Chahn (Steamed Sea Bass with Lemon Juice): Whole sea bass steamed in lemon juice, garlic, coriander, and red chilli

Empty dishes; full stomachs; happy people

 Sebastien - our wonderful server, who chose all the dishes and served them with gracious hospitality

Stay tuned for Asian Flavours Part Two: Chili Crab!

April 18, 2010

April Daring Cooks Challenge: Brunswick Stew


Here it is - my first Daring Cooks Challenge post! (a little late because of my Asian travels).  If you don't know about The Daring Kitchen, be sure to check it out - foodies from all over the world sharing their love of food, recipes, tips and - once a month - cooking (or baking) the same thing. 

The 2010 April Daring Cooks challenge was hosted by Wolf of Wolf’s Den. She chose to challenge Daring Cooks to make Brunswick Stew. Wolf chose recipes for her challenge from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook by Matt Lee and Ted Lee, and from the Callaway, Virginia Ruritan Club.  I used the Lee Bros. version and modified the recipe by using edamame beans instead of butter beans, all chicken thighs instead a chicken pieces and white wine to deglaze the pot.  Try it, y'all - it's divine!

Brunswick Stew
adapted from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners, by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

serves 6 generously

⅛ lb slab bacon, rough diced
1 Serrano or Thai fresh chili, stem trimmed, sliced, seeded, flattened
1 lb rabbit loin pieces
3 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs
½ tbsp sea salt for seasoning, plus extra to taste
1 cup dry white wine
6-8 cups Sunday Chicken Broth (recipe below), or low sodium chicken broth
1 bay leaf
1 large celery stalk
1 lb bintje potatoes, or other waxy type potatoes, peeled, rough diced
¾ cups carrots, chopped
1¾ cups onion, chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
1½ cups shelled edamame beans, defrosted if frozen
1 19 oz can whole, peeled tomatoes, drained and cut into small pieces (approx. 2 cups)
⅛ cup red wine vinegar
Juice of 1 lemon
Tabasco sauce to taste

1.  In a large stockpot or Dutch oven, fry the bacon over medium-high heat until it just starts to crisp. Transfer to a large bowl, and set aside. Add the chili to the bacon fat in the pot. Toast the chili until it becomes fragrant, about a minute. Remove to bowl with the bacon.

2.  Season the rabbit and chicken liberally on both sides with sea salt and pepper. Place the rabbit pieces in the pot and sear on all sides, until just browned, and add to the bowl with bacon and chili.  Brown chicken thighs, adding more fat if needed, on all sides. Put the chicken in the bowl with the bacon, chiles and rabbit, and set aside.

Rabbit loins browning in bacon fat

3.  Add the white wine to the pot and deglaze the pan, scraping up the browned bits from the bottom. Bring to a boil and reduce by half.  Add 6 cups of stock, the bay leaf, celery, potatoes, chicken, rabbit, bacon, chili and any liquid that may have gathered at the bottom of the bowl they were resting in. Bring the pot back up to a rolling boil, over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and cover.  Simmer for approximately 1½ hours, stirring every 15 minutes. 

4.  With a pair of tongs, carefully remove the chicken and rabbit pieces to a colander over the bowl you used earlier. Remove the bay leaf, celery and chili and discard. After you’ve allowed the meat to cool enough to handle, carefully remove all the meat from the bones, shredding it as you go. Return the meat to the pot.

5.  Add the carrots, and stir gently, allowing it to come back to a slow simmer. Simmer gently, uncovered, for at least 25 minutes, or until the carrots have started to soften.

6.  Add onion, edamame, corn and tomatoes. Simmer for another 30 minutes, stirring every so often until the stew has reduced slightly, and onions, corn and beans are tender. Remove from heat and add in vinegar, lemon juice; stir to blend well. Season to taste with sea salt, pepper, and Tabasco sauce if desired. It's so thick and delicious that a spoon will stand up in the stew on its own.

Look Ma, no hands

7.  You can either serve the stew immediately or refrigerate for 24 hours, which makes the flavors meld more and makes the overall stew even better. Serve hot, either on its own, or with a side of corn bread, over steamed white rice, with any braised greens as a side. 

Sunday Chicken Broth
from The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook: Stories and Recipes for Southerners and Would-Be Southerners, by Matt Lee and Ted Lee

Makes about 1 quart

Bones and trimmings, but not giblets, of one 3 ½- 4 ½ lb, or 12-14 oz (approx. 2 cups) chicken bones and trimmings
1 large onion, trimmed, peeled, quartered
6 large stems fresh flat leaf parsley
1 stalk celery, cut into 2” lengths
2 large bay leaves
5 cups cold water
1 cup crisp dry white wine
Salt and pepper to taste

1.  Place bones/trimmings in medium stockpot and add onion, parsley, celery and bay leaves. Add wine and water; liquid should cover all ingredients, if not, add more until it does. Bring to vigorous simmer over high heat, then reduce heat and simmer gently for roughly 45 minutes to an hour, skimming any scum or fat that comes to the surface.

2.  Strain broth into bowl through fine mesh strainer. Discard the solids. Salt and pepper to taste.

3.  Store in tightly sealed container in refrigerator until the remaining fat congeals on the top. Remove the fat, and unless not using within 2 days, keep tightly sealed in the refrigerator. Otherwise, freeze, and it will keep for upwards of a month.

April 16, 2010

Signs of Spring - Marinated Baby Artichokes

Out of China - and back to blogging!   

Another spring dish, baby artichokes gently cooked and marinated are a fabulous way to usher in the season.  These artichokes can be served as part of a Mediterranean spread of appetisers, as a delicious side to roasted or grilled meats, or simply enjoyed on their own, eaten delicately one by one.

Angelo’s Artichokes
from Olive Oil: From Tree to Table, by Peggy Knickerbocker*

24 baby artichokes
2 lemons 
4 cups water, divided
2 c. red wine vinegar
20 mint leaves, julienned
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 to ½ cup olive oil

1.  Squeeze the lemons and pour the juice into a medium bowl.  Put the lemon halves into the water also. 

2.  Trim the outer leaves of the artichokes until you get to the tender green leaves.  Trim the stem off and the top ½ inch of the tops.  Cut the artichokes in half lengthwise and as you do, put them into the lemon water. 

3.  Bring the remaining 2 cups water and the red wine vinegar to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Drain the artichokes, discarding the lemon halves, and add to the boiling water.

4.  Boil gently for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the artichokes are tender.  Drain and leave in a colander for 30 minutes or so, to ensure all the liquid is drained.

5.  Meanwhile, combine the mint, garlic and olive in a decorative ceramic bowl.  When the artichokes have drained, add them to the mixture and combine until they are thoroughly coated.

6.  The artichokes are ready to serve but will be even better if you let them marinate for several hours.  They can be left at room temperature, or stored in the fridge overnight.  Cover and let come to room temperature before serving (you can serve them cold but the flavour really sings when they are room temperature).

7.  If you can resist eating them all, the artichokes can be stored for several weeks in the fridge.  Put in a container with a tight fitting lid, cover with olive oil until the artichokes are submerged, and serve as needed. These make a great hostess gift, as you can bring them in a beautiful little bowl that becomes part of the gift.

* I love the little circles life makes.  One of the things that really got me going on this blog was a deep desire to celebrate food, and the experience of making it – getting beyond the pedestrian to touch something of the sublime that sharing food brings. And through that process, to discover both the new and known in different ways.

When I was a kid, I was the only one who didn’t eat artichokes.  My mother would make simmer large globe artichokes for what seemed like hours over the stove, cooked with homemade chicken broth and lots of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.  I can smell them now, but sadly can no longer taste them, and that recipe, along with many others, is lost.

Fast forward to the here and now.  Olive Oil: From Tree to Table was a gift from a work colleague, and I immediately loved the story-telling behind both olive oil production and the recipes themselves.  It was one of those books that seemed like a good one to cook my way through, and Angelo’s Artichokes was the second recipe.  I never really thought about who Angelo might be, beyond the brief and charming story Peggy Knickerbocker tells of sharing a meal with Angelo and several chefs and seeing him take a case of fresh baby artichokes and make this dish.

As I made these artichokes recently to bring to friends for dinner, I idly read the description of Angelo again.  Peggy describes him as a forager and an ironsmith.  And it clicked.  Angelo was none other than Angelo Garro, who Michael Pollan goes hunting with in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book that has made me passionate about knowing my food and understanding where it comes from.  The chapter that describes their outing – which includes in a gourmet picnic eaten in the middle of the woods – is a highlight.  To imagine that I am ever so slightly closer to someone as passionate about food as Angelo, through the mechanism of a printed recipe on a page, is a wondrous thing.  That my Italian mamma is smiling approvingly down at me somewhere in the great beyond is a much closer connection that I celebrate with every garlicky bite.

April 12, 2010

AWOL in Beijing

As my plane touched down in Beijing today, it suddenly occurred to me that I might not have access to my blog via my computer. Yup. So I'm learning how to blog via my Blackberry and slowly seeing the attraction of an iPhone... Depending on how it goes, you may see my post on fabulous marinated artichokes later today or in a week when I get to Singapore.

April 10, 2010

Apple of My Eye Pie Redux

Way back in November, I made what looked like a pretty darn good apple pie.  Hibernating in the corner of my freezer, Easter Sunday seemed as good a time as any to figure out how to bake a frozen pie in double-quick time in my TurboChef.

An easy 23 minutes later, the pie emerged from the oven, perfectly browned and utterly delectable.  It's the ultimate combination - a slow day of cooking and a super speedy way to eat the results.  Yum!

If you try the recipe, note that I have modified it with the addition of lemon juice and cardamom.  The lemon juice adds quite a pronounced lemony flavour, which I love, but if you want something more subtle, try adding just a tablespoon. Also be sure to let the pie cool sufficiently so the juices "set". If you're baking in a regular oven, pop the pie in a preheated oven at 350°F for 30 minutes.  After 30 minutes, check the pie and if the crust is browning too quickly, cover the top with foil (or even just the edges if that's what's really browning). Continue baking for another 30-40 minutes, or until the slits on top are bubbling.

My friend Jenny tells me about baharat, which sounds amazing. See her explanation below.  Next time I'll try some of that to give this pie a spicy note.

For seasoning, in addition to a bit of lemon juice and sugar, I'm using baharat. Mine is from the Spice House in Chicago - the top note of this popular table seasoning from the Middle East (I'm all about ME cuisines this year) is very cinnamon/nutmeg, but the secondary note upon first taste is more complex, leaving one with a little kick that fits in with today's vogue for spicy desserts. Ingredients are: Tellicherry black pepper, coriander, cumin, Ceylon select cloves, Saigon cinnamon, cardamom, Spanish paprika and Chinese Tien Tsin chile peppers. Sounds weird, but really works.

April 06, 2010

Six Hour No Knead Artisanal Bread

There's been lots written about Jim Lahey's 18 hour no knead bread: the crackling brown crust; the airy, chewy delectable interior; the artisanal look; and most of all, the no fuss, no muss no-knead method.  But, as much as I love bread, it just seemed hard to be able to plan for something that far in the future, even if it meant no work on my part.

That's why this six hour version from Bonnie Stern is exactly right for me.  I can stir up the dough right after lunch, tend it one more time and be at the table with hot bread by supper.  What could be better than that?

Six Hour No-Knead Bread
adapted by Bonnie Stern from Jim Lahey's recipe

makes one gorgeous loaf

3½ cups all purpose flour (or a combination of all purpose and whole wheat)

nb. I've long been intrigued by King Arthur Flour - simply because it's not available in Canada and it gets such great raves.  Finally got my hands on some and I have to say the results were fab...

1 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp kosher salt
1½ c warm water
¼ tsp red wine vinegar
Additional flour
Cornmeal, sesame seeds or bran (optional)

1. Mix the flour, yeast and salt together in a large bowl. 

2.  Combine the water and vinegar and stir into the flour mixture until combined: you will have a soft, sticky dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a tea towel and leave at room temperature for three to four hours.

3.  Prep a baking sheet by covering it with a tea towel, sprinkled generously with flour.  Take the dough (which should be risen and full of bubbles) and spread it in a rectangular shape on the sheet that is approximately 12 x 8".  Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.

4.  Place another clean tea towel on a baking sheet on which you have rubbed flour  and sprinkled cornmeal (or bran, etc.). Remove plastic wrap and fold dough into thirds, brushing off flour as you go.  Fold into thirds again to create a pudgy cube: this will become your beautiful boule. Place on the baking sheet and dust the top very lightly with more flour and cornmeal.  Fold the tea towel on top and let rise at room temperature, at least two hours (more is okay).

5.  Forty-five minutes before baking the bread, preheat the oven to 450°F.  Place a heavy large pot with a lid in the oven (for example a Le Creuset Dutch oven) and heat it for 30 minutes.

6.  Take the pot out of the stove and remove the lid.  Placing your hand underneath the dough, lift the boule gently and uncover, shaking off any excess flour and cornmeal over the baking sheet.  Flip the bread into the hot pot, cover and bake for 30 minutes.

7.  After 30 minutes, remove the lid, and bake a further 10-20 minutes, or until the bread is deep golden brown and crusty.* Let cool on a rack.

*When I took off the lid, the bread already looked quite brown to me, but it still needed that extra baking time.  I found that 10 minutes did the trick.